On Writing

Middle School
A post written in collaboration with the middle school humanities teachers.

Writing is a central part of the academic experience in the middle school. By eighth grade, middle schoolers are not only deep and flexible thinkers, but they are nimble communicators. We want them to use writing as a tool to think in every discipline. Through the years, students are introduced to and develop skill in memoir, persuasive writing, essays, op-eds, stories, reading responses, articles, letters and poetry. As students write, middle school teachers ask: What is the heart of this piece? What is your thesis? Where can you add more detail? Where can you show instead of tell? Can you write this from another perspective? What is your evidence? What sources can you cite?
 
Fifth graders are writing memoirs right now. They begin by looking back in their writers’ notebooks and reading all their entries since the beginning of the year to unearth a theme. They ask themselves, “What are the kinds of things I tend to write about?” and then “What does this say about me?” They explore broad themes individually and as a group and consider memories and stories related to that theme. Memoir, they learn, is a genre that alternates: memory, reflection, memory, reflection. Students go through several cycles of editing and sharing with parnters. The unit culminates in a memoir share, where students sit in small groups with teachers from the whole middle school, and take turns reading their own memoir.

Sixth graders just completed Who the Heck Are You?, in which each student became a journalist. They identified a subject, learned about and drafted open-ended questions, conducted interviews, and then went through many cycles of editing. Sixth grader teachers tasked students with hooking the reader with their first sentence - as journalists do - and then arranging the best parts of their interview in an order that would make the reader not want to put the piece down. This assignment bridges that gap between structured persuasive essay writing and more open-ended creative writing assignments, such as poetry which is still on the horizon. Ultimately, the project also serves a bigger purpose: readers get to better know members of our LREI community such as teachers, kitchen staff, administrators, local business owners, and student mentors.
 
Seventh graders are learning about the writing of the Constitution and the importance of First Amendment rights and national security. They are "becoming" lawyers or justices for a constitutional role play that asks them to consider carefully this relationship between free speech and national security, asking, how does a document written more than 250 years ago have relevance for a 21st century democracy? This is just one way seventh graders are asked to write from a particular individual or character's lens, inhabiting a new and sometimes unfamiliar space in their writing. In the process, they come to develop a vocabulary and understanding of a new setting or community. As a part of the Colonial Museum project, for example, students wrote creative diary entries from the perspective of the character they learned about.
 
In eighth grade, Writing Worskhop meets for an hour each week. In it, students read mentor texts and emulate them or use them as inspiration to write poetry, nonfiction and short stories. The workshop runs just like a writing workshop would in “real” life—writers experimenting, reading their work aloud, getting feedback from peers, having fun, risking and rewriting. Right now in Writing Workshop, eighth graders are reading poets, writing poetry and studying poetic devices. At the same time, they are reading To Kill a Mockingbird and are preparing to write a persuasive essay, using outside sources, addressing the question: Should Harper Lee have made Tom's life and the life of the Black community more central in To Kill a Mockingbird?

We believe that writing matters. It is central  to exploring our personal lives, to communicating important ideas that can make change in the world, to documenting findings, to expanding our empathy for others. We think it is critically important that students learn how to wrestle with their writing, and through many cycles of drafts, feedback, and rewrites, find their voice.
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