Mt. Vernon Register-News

August 21, 2013

District 80 implements new writing curriculum

By TRAVIS MORSE travis.morse@register-news.com
The Register-News

---- — MT. VERNON – Educators at District 80 schools will place a stronger emphasis on writing skills this year as part of a newly approved curriculum.

The goal is to make students better able to communicate and support their ideas using the written word.

In addition, the new writing curriculum will help prepare students for more rigorous state testing in the near future. New state tests in the 2014-2015 school year will focus heavily on writing.

“We want students to be able to articulate why they feel something is important,” said Dee Ann Schnautz, director of curriculum, instruction and assessments for District 80. “It's one thing to tell me how you feel about something. It's another to be able to support it. It just takes a different skill-set to be able to do that.”

Last week, the District 80 Board of Education approved spending $4,900 to implement the new curriculum for kindergarten through eighth grade students, starting this school year. Most of this cost comes from purchasing texts and teacher guides for the program.

Superintendent Mike Green said starting the curriculum now will hopefully give teachers and students enough time to prepare for the new state tests on the horizon.

“This way, it gives them a whole year to get used to it and iron out the things that they are unsure about or the unknowns,” Green said. “So we just wanted to give it to the teachers and the students a year ahead of time.”

The new curriculum centers mainly around “mentor texts” that provide high-quality examples of different forms of writing, Schnautz said. The texts include individual stories, picture books, and novel units.

To Schnautz, these texts show students “the best of the best” writing samples. Working with their teachers, the students then break these samples down to learn more about how to write well.

Students won't necessarily write about the same topics as what's in the samples, but the samples will give them a better idea of how to express themselves, Schnautz said.

Word usage, vocabulary, sentence structure, and formulation of ideas are all part of the lessons, Schnautz said.

“I think it marries well with what we're doing with balanced literacy,” Schnautz said of the new curriculum. “The instructional coaches and I look forward to working with teachers to implement the curriculum. We also look forward to seeing the students' writing improve.”

District 80 has purchased the full set of materials for kindergarten through third grade, as educators are confident the curriculum will work with that age group.

For fourth through eighth grade, the district has only purchased a portion of the materials to try the curriculum on a pilot basis for that age group. If it goes well, the rest of the texts will be acquired, Schnautz said.

“We just want to be sure it fits well for them, Schnautz said. “We're going to slowly introduce it this year.”