Confidence and fluency in writing is one of the most essential and valuable skills a child takes from school into life. Being able to write means being able to connect, share, and persuade. In the middle school, we help young writers develop a voice, a love of writing and the ability to nimbly employ different styles. Students learn how to tell their own story, to analyze the books they read, to examine history from multiple perspectives and to make connections to current events.
We embrace writing as a deeply personal process that is intrinsically connected to identity. A big part of our writing program, therefore, is celebrating each middle schoolers’ history, family and character. This begins in the fifth grader’s writing of memoir and continues through to the 8th graders’ “Sure You Can Ask Me a Personal Question” poems.
The analytic writing process is equally deliberate. Teachers guide students through a progression that helps them learn how to craft persuasive arguments, and to evaluate, examine, and leverage evidence in support of their ideas in an organic and meaningful way. We ask students to consider abstract ideas like culture and power so that they can really understand social studies topics. As an example, the seventh grade is currently considering colonial life through the lens of Native Americans, enslaved Africans and European colonists. Specifically, each student used primary and secondary sources to analyze how these cultures in contact supported, blended and often conflicted with each other.
The writing conferencing between teachers and students is the centerpiece of our program. Teachers give specific instruction and guidance that is drawn from the student’s own writing. Conversations about things like comma splices, how to cite a source, or incorporating dialogue often happen with teacher and student side by side, pouring over a page or laptop. Writerly techniques, style and skill are developed with the teacher as coach. This ensures that the advice each student receives is immediately relevant and usable. It also reinforces the respect for their voice; each student’s writing is a real and an important artifact, worthy of study and craft.
All teachers in the middle school use their subject area as a medium for conveying the values in our mission: creativity, citizenship, critical thinking, courage. This is especially apparent in the way we guide children to develop their writing, something that is intrinsically and uniquely part of who they are.
Ana Fox Chaney
Middle School Principal