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District 304 Teachers Tackle Writing Curriculum

An ongoing study based on ISAT test results could lead to an integrated 13-year curriculum shared by the entire district.

A new writing instruction study could help improve elementary school students’ scores on the Illinois State Achievement Exams, the Board of Education learned earlier this month.

“The study involves teachers from all grade levels and all buildings in the elementary schools, as well as ELL [English language learners] and special education teachers," Kathy Pease, director of curriculum, said. "We’re also consulting with middle school and high school teachers."

Pease said writing instruction needs to be a seamless process as students move from kindergarten through their senior year.

Using “data-driven decision-making” principles, Pease said the study group examined details of ISAT writing test questions that district students often missed. They used that information to draw up a set of “core beliefs” for writing instruction that, in turn, helped them develop a detailed list of writing skills to be taught in each trimester at each grade level.

 “A detailed, multi-year curriculum provides trust that, if a second-grade teacher teaches a particular skill to students, the next year a third-grade teacher will pick up the ball and build on it with those same students," Pease said.

Likewise, Pease said this way a third-grade teacher can start the school year confident that her students have learned core writing principles in the previous grade.

Since one of the core beliefs the study group identified is that students must learn different writing styles to use in different situations, board member Tim Moran asked if teachers will add “texting” to the curriculum.

“We need to teach students to write for various purposes,” Pease said. “I don’t think we’ll be teaching them that ‘tomorrow’ is ‘tmw’ in texting, but we will teach them when it is and isn’t appropriate.”

Board member Kelly Nowak stressed that the new writing curriculum should serve students at every ability level. “I don’t want us to focus just on the [ISAT] percentages and on the kids who are failing to meet state standards,” she said. “I want to know that we’re still keeping track of the kids who are already exceeding so we can give them new challenges.”

The study group will present its findings and recommendations once the study is complete.

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