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Reading, Writing In Different Subjects

From reflecting on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to discussing what science means to them, the Royal 7's had a day filled with reading and writing recently. Principal Kathy Ouellette also talked about the importance of data shaping instruction. Included: Examples of writing assignment.

The Royal 7 day September 13 has a lot of writing in it, possibly a sign of the upcoming Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMTs). Although only fourth, sixth, and eighth graders take the official tests in reading, writing, and mathematics, seventh graders also take a CMT-style test.

In Mr. Kienle's language arts class, students are asked to write between five and seven sentences about what the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks meant to them and how they were affected.

Mr. Crockwell is helping out Mr. Kienle, and together they stress the importance of having a topic sentence. "That gives the facts," Mr. Kienle says. "It pulls you in," Mr. Crockwell adds.

"Pull into your emotions; how angry, sad, or scared you were," Mr. Kienle adds. "In the introduction, tell what you're going to tell. In the conclusion, tell what you told them."

Education World Goes Back to School

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending several days a month this school year with the Royal 7's, a seventh grade team at Bennet Middle School, a grade 6 to 8 school in Manchester, Connecticut. She is observing and participating in students' learning, and talking with staff about their strategies and perspectives on improving student performance. She is a graduate of W. Tresper Clarke Junior-Senior High School in Westbury, N.Y.

Mr. Crockwell shares his memories of the day of the attacks. "I remember exactly where I was. I freaked out. Both my brother and brother-in-law were flying that day. I was trying to reach them."

Students start writing, some talking to each other about their 9/11 memories. Mr. Kienle tells everyone to listen as he reads the beginning of one student's paper: "On Sept. 11, 2001, I heard news that changed our country forever."

That, he says, is a topic sentence.


After students turn in rough drafts of their papers, the class focuses its attention on punctuation.

"In order to look intelligent, when you write those love letters to boys or girls, and when you are trying to convince an employer to hire you, you have to know the correct punctuation," Mr. Crockwell says. "English has rules."

"What?" someone squeaks.

They should not feel daunted, because English has six times more words than other languages, he continues, before he and Mr. Kienle hand out worksheets about end marks.

In Ms. Brohinsky's class, students begin the period trying to find the grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors in a three-sentence paragraph.

The Bennet campus.
Click here to see a larger photo of the campus.


Students also start off writing in Mr. Sutherland's science class, by answering the question, what do you think is the most important safety rule in our science class?

He tells students the most important rule is to follow the teacher's directions and written lab instructions. "If you do that, everything will fall into place," he adds. "Use your common sense and everything will be fine."

The class discusses spatial patterns, such as clockwise, counterclockwise, perpendicular, and parallel.

The group is a little restless, possibly because they are in a different classroom. The roof leaks and ceiling collapse of the past week has left their regular room under renovation.

But they quiet down promptly when Mr. Sutherland reads them a poem about what science is, and, for homework, asks them to write, illustrate, or act out what science means to them.

In math, it is time for a quiz, after a review of prime and composite numbers. During the quiz, one girl whispers to another.

The whispering student is reading the questions in Spanish, Ms. Kutniewski explains. The other girl speaks very little English. "Usually, I try to put the questions in Spanish also, but I don't want to enable her," Ms. Kutniewski explains. "It makes it harder, though, because I want to include more reading into math."


One of Bennet's goals is to assess students' skills more precisely, by collecting and using data more effectively, and that means using more than the CMT's. "We want to make decisions about the school and academic needs based on data," principal Kathy Ouellette explains. "We are looking at data-driven decision-making."

To assess progress in math, for example, staff members look at CMT scores, failure rates, and honor rolls, among other things, to try to pinpoint shortcomings in the curriculum.

Flexible grouping allows coursework to be adjusted to student needs. Some eighth graders take elementary algebra before they go to high school. In an effort to help more students, particularly minority students, complete elementary algebra, some eighth graders take the first half of the course in eighth grade. Ms.Ouellete worked out an agreement with the high school staff, so students can take the second half of the course in ninth grade. "We've found that very important for the minority students."

School staff will be reviewing all areas of the curriculum during the year. "It's important for all staff to get on board with data," Ms. Ouellette adds.

What Does a Billion Look Like?

Did you ever think about what a billion of anything would look like? Social studies teacher Gary Tracey tried one afternoon to help his seventh graders visualize a billion.

The homework assignment had been to calculate what percentage of the world's population the U.S. population represents, if the U.S. population is 294,216,000 and the world's population is 5,836,000,000.

"What do you think a billion looks like?" Mr. Tracey asks.

  • "A lot?"
  • "Ants."
  • "Lots of different people."
  • "The Big E." (A fair for the New England states.)
  • "A lot of numbers."

Mr. Tracy has numerous illustrations of billions. A billion credit cards would weigh as much as 52 blue whales, at about 180 tons per whale, he says. Or 1,562 hippos. Or 78 brachiosauruses.

A billion seconds ago was 1973. A billion credit cards, laid end to end, would circle the Earth 2.2 times.

A billion minutes ago, Jesus was alive.

Each example draws murmurs or "wow's" from the class.

The answer to the question, by the way, is 5 percent.




















Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
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