Sunday, August 26, 2012

Writing A-Z

At the beginning of last school year, Mrs. Pokey and I sat down and looked at the scores of our students on our annual "Really Big Important State Tests For English Language Learners".   The "Really Big State Tests" look at the progress of our English Language Learners in four areas.  The areas are reading, speaking, listening and writing.  The students receive scores from 1-5 in each of the four areas.  The area scores are weighted and combined to make a composite score.

We use the composite scores to decide where the students will be placed in our program.  I am the ESL unit teacher and I work with the emergent and beginning students (composite scores of 1 and 2).  Mrs. Pokey is our ESL paraprofessional and she works with the intermediate and advanced students (composite scores of 3 and 4).  Under current state rules, a student who receives composite 4's two years in a row or a composite 5 after 3rd grade is exited from the ESL program.   Our goal is to keep our students advancing and eventually exiting the program.

After looking at the data, we realized that writing is the "make or break" score for our children.  It is weighted more heavily and affects the composite score.  The writing score makes the difference between a student working with me versus Mrs. Pokey AND determines whether or not they can exit our program.

Therefore, Mrs. Pokey and I decided we really needed to place a high priority on working on writing with our students.  We looked at what was available to us from the district and what was available from other sources.  Finally, we decided to try Writing A-Z, an online program from the Learning A-Z folks.

We've used Reading A-Z and Raz-Kids from the same company for several years.  We like both programs and feel they've been beneficial for our kids.  So, we piloted Writing A-Z for the school year to see how we liked it.

Well...our test results came in just before the school year ended in May.  Our students ROCKED the "Really Big Important State Tests for English Language Learners"!!!   Mrs. Pokey and I were so excited we nearly expired from happiness!   Yipppeeeeeeee!!  We were able to exit several students while others advanced up from unit level services to tutor level (working with Mrs. Pokey).  Moreover, we even had a few students who advanced TWO levels in writing.  Hallelujah!

Mrs. Pokey and I are convinced that trying Writing A-Z last year made a difference for our students.   We especially liked the way it tied in so well to Reading A-Z and Raz-Kids that we already use.  We're excited to keep moving forward with it this year as well.  Now that we've had a "shake down" year with it, we have more ideas to try.

And...the best part of all this??  The district bigwigs noticed our test scores and agreed to provide Writing A-Z to all our elementary ESL programs.  (Thank goodness I don't have to buy it myself this year! <grin>)
Stay tuned throughout the school year and I'll share some more writing tips with you.

If you'd like to check out Writing A-Z for yourself, here's a link.  They will email some free samples to you and periodically they have free trial subscription days.

Writing A-Z link

 Here's what they say on their website about Writing A-Z:  

Writing A–Z is a website offering a comprehensive collection of downloadable lessons and materials. The core lessons are grouped under five main writing genres: expository, narrative, persuasive, procedural, and transactional. Each genre category is further divided into a subset of text types with accompanying resources to teach each type. Lessons and materials are provided at four developmental levels to meet the needs of students at different writing stages, from beginning to fluent. In addition to the specific text type writing lessons and materials, the website houses a collection of mini-lessons on writing skills such as sentence and paragraph writing. There is also a collection of support resources to aid writing instruction, including writing prompts, wordless books, read-aloud books, rubrics, and writing samples.