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This school year begins during a period of great change for public education. In addition to financial challenges, expectations have shifted to new and more rigorous requirements for college and career readiness reached through the pathway of Common Core State Standards. Keeping our country competitive in a 21st-century global economy hangs in the balance. For students to be successful and productive global citizens, they need an awareness of self and the world around them.

Our journey to prepare students for college and career readiness and their successful participation in this global economy begins in their earliest years. The vision for more literate citizenry starts in classrooms where students hone skills necessary to make learning relevant.

Writing is both a tool for learning and a valuable skill that students will be able to use throughout their lives. The evolution of writing to a more prominent position in our instructional experiences is consistent with curriculum revisions to emphasize the big ideas and essential questions that transcend history and current events. We want students to cultivate a deeper understanding about what they learn and how it is relevant to their lives and the world. And, we want them to benefit from a more reflective and thoughtful teaching and learning environment.

Emphasizing writing as important in understanding ideas and questions that are timeless in their historical scope and presence in our daily experiences is consistent with the district’s high expectations for all learners. In recent years, this commitment to high expectations for all was demonstrated through efforts to reduce pull-out interventions and to include more students in classrooms with typically developing peers. The idea is that all students have the ability to participate meaningfully in the typical classroom experience.

High expectations were part of summer school. Youngsters were challenged with applied learning experiences in engineering and science that many do not face until high school. Integrating writing curriculum into other content areas is the next step to ensure that all students benefit from high expectations and differentiated learning experiences to help them reach their potential.

In educational literature, we read about helping children understand the “big ideas” or answer “essential questions.” These ideas are often found in history’s record. They are found in the daily narrative of current events. And certainly, they drive exploration, discovery, and innovation in the march of scientific progress. Our emphasis upon writing will help us develop students who are better able to participate in the meaningful debates and discussions involving these eternal questions that define civil discourse. Writing lets students share their own perspective. It gives them the opportunity to be understood. These things become more important as children move through school and into their chosen careers.

This year, middle school student writing portfolios will demonstrate an understanding of different writing styles, terms, and genres. On-demand writing assessments and student self-assessments will evaluate how well students comprehend the importance of grammar and writing fluency. From narratives and explanatory essays, learners will be led to the more complex tasks required for research projects and persuasive arguments. Grade-level literacy standards identify what is expected. These range from citing textual evidence to comparing and contrasting, from literary text to a filmed or live version, from analyzing conflicting information to understanding how an author emphasizes different evidence or interpretations of fact. In short, you should see more writing in our classrooms and instructional experiences. The idea is to improve writing quality as it becomes a more integral part of the instructional experience.

Writing plays an essential role in all that we do. Its applications are boundless, ranging from the semantic representation of qualitative and mathematical terms to the symbolic description of experience in poetry and creative writing. Figures of speech, simile, metaphor, and analogy will permeate the political rhetoric that will be part of the upcoming political season. A clear presentation of facts and events demonstrates an understanding about all that has happened and will happen in our daily lives and experiences. Dramatic writing can touch the hearts of people in ways that motivate and inspire.

After all is said and done, the emphasis upon writing supports all aspects of our instructional efforts. It is necessary to transform the instructional experiences in our schools and classrooms. Students who are able to effectively address ever more complex subject matter with clarity are able to demonstrate an understanding ranging from the simple to the sophisticated. If children can write with sophistication and meaning, they should be able to read with greater comprehension even the most difficult text. In preparing them to do so, we enable our students to be effective participants in a literate society. And this I believe is the heart of the matter.