Writing across the K12 Curriculum: Common Core Mandates for Success
Daddona, Patricia, District Administration
Black in 2010, then-elementary school Principal Catherine White focused on writing in the Attleboro (Mass.) Public Schools. And with that, the school's fourth graders beat the state average for long composition on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.
"Not one kid cried during long comp 2010," she recalls. "No one ripped up their papers. No one threw up. Kids wrote almost the whole day long, and when announced that it was done, the fourth grade cheered and yelled so loud I could hear them downstairs in my office. Kids were so proud. Kids were having conversations all over the building about their writing."
White, now a literacy specialist in the Natick (Mass.) Public Schools, looks at that accomplishment as a foreshadowing of the success that's possible with Common Core State Standards.
In preparation for new testing in the fall of 2014, district leaders are increasing writing and shifting it across the curriculum as they teach to the new Common Core standards. District literacy must supplement narrative and opinion writing with information-based writing and evidence-based argumentative writing not just in English Language Arts, but in civics, science, and even math, according to White and Bruce Bradley, curriculum director for the North Royalton (Ohio) City Schools.
Now that SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers are on track to deliver online assessments in the 2014-2015 academic year, consortia and district leaders say they are more determined than ever to improve students' writing performance and enhance professional collaboration internally.
Barbara Kapinus, director of English Language Arts and literacy for SMARTER Balanced, says more writing is essential. "It's a way of getting to deeper levels of thinking," Kapinus says. "You just can't get the level of thinking with multiple-choice (test) items that you get with writing an essay."
The added emphasis on writing as a whole helps with critical thinking, says Bonnie Hain, PARCC's senior advisor for English Language Arts and literacy. The Common Core standards were created to improve students' ability to translate information and communicate it through writing across disciplines--a skill needed for careers beyond college and technical school. "When you look at why Common Core was adopted in the first place," Hain says, "states saw a number of research reports that [revealed that] students were not coming out of school prepared for college and career readiness. Whether it's college or careers, writing is a skill we hear (about) over and over again."
New Ways of Writing
Some district administrators are devising ways to deliver writing across the curriculum by imposing new, more intricate ways of writing for 21st-century students. They include: writing vertically; argumentative writing, which relies upon citing textual evidence to establish, counter, and prove a claim; real-life situations; and linking reading to writing.
White says that having teachers plan for writing "vertically," or knowing what is taught in prior grades, is critical. And earlier grades may need to master narrative writing skills that include opening with an engaging hook and clearly identifying a problem, for instance, she says, while middle school students beginning to write argumentatively will have to know how to make a claim and back it up with evidence from assigned texts.
To keep students motivated, embedding a writing assignment in real-life, problem-solving situations can be invaluable, adds Jana M. Alig, executive director of elementary education in the Reynoldsburg City (Ohio) Schools, which serves 6,000 students. "They don't even realize they're doing the writing when they create the 'How Can We Help Our Environment' pamphlet," she says. "If they produce a product that helps solve a real-world problem, that seems to be a great motivator. …