Finding the ‘write’ stuff

Published 10:34 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Writing skills are important for all students, so a fifth-grade teacher at Oakland Elementary School recently decided to take matters into her own hands when she noticed skills were slipping among some of her students.

Melissa Phillips applied for the grant from the Virginia State Reading Association and was awarded $700 for the WriteSteps program to help her students.

WriteSteps is an online writing and grammar program. Phillips will use the program with next year’s students, and those students will also be able to use it the following summer as they transition to middle school. The program includes evaluations at the beginning and end of the school year to measure the program’s effectiveness, using classes who are not using the program as a control.

Unfortunately, part of what motivated Phillips to apply for this grant was that she noticed skills slipping among fifth-grade students over the years. In her grant application, she wrote that she believes the removal of the fifth-grade Standards of Learning test has contributed to this development, as time dedicated to writing instruction and practice has fallen by the wayside. And, as with all skills, students bring their strengths and weaknesses up from the lower grades.

Phillips certainly seems to be doing her part to help her students improve their writing skills. She recently shared with a reporter that she inspires students to write in class with “wacky picture prompts.” One recent prompt had illustrations of a bucket of army men, a leprechaun and a broken violin, from which students were expected to build a story.

A well rounded high school graduate should be able to communicate effectively in writing in the workplace or to family and friends. But, Phillips added, there’s also the desire for students to find their own voice, which many find it easier to do through writing.

“It’s becoming a lost art,” Phillips said.

Phillips deserves a pat on the back for going the extra mile for her students. We look forward to reporting the results of this program.