Preparing Students for Writing Proficiency Exams

Most states require the successful completion of some type of writing assessment to receive a standard high school diploma. Often the exam is given to juniors and I have found that most students pass on the first go-round especially when they are well prepared by their teachers who require some sort of writing every day in every subject. Whether the course is history, math, or music, when students write in a variety of genres with a variety of formats, they improve. Good writing builds confidence as students learn to study their words and sentences to create full impact and to clarify their thinking with strong, descriptive word choices and sentence structure. Reflective writing is a perfect partner to any assignment, project, or creation. It is hard to bluff understanding when writing is an integral part of the final assessment. Mom may have constructed the bookshelves or Dad may have designed the science experiment leaving young son or daughter out of the loop of comprehension. But when the participation of little son or daughter is central and parents are side-lined, this will be obvious when the child writes about the steps, successes, and pitfalls as part of project accountability.
As graduation approaches, seniors who have not passed the writing proficiency may fly into a whirl of action, trying to figure out the best way to achieve a passing score. Unfortunately, this is often too late and a sad reflection on the school or district that has not supported the student throughout the years with appropriate intervention and enrichment. Writing every day makes success far simpler to reach while teaching the child the value of being a good writer. If your student or child is struggling with writing, start a program of help immediately.
First, kids need to write every day. Select topics that are important like wearing seatbelts, requiring (or not requiring) school uniforms, the advantages of an Ivy League education, and so forth. Discuss thesis statements and make them the focus of the lesson for today, i.e., "Here is the topic. Write an opening." Students do not need to write the entire piece, but rather come up with clear, engaging thesis statements. After a great thesis, move to the last sentence of the piece, making certain that this sentence reflects the thesis. Move through several topics writing the opening and the closing. Once several are in order have the student select one that piques his/her interest and imagination.
On a blank sheet of paper, have the child write the thesis statement at the top and the closing at the bottom. Sketch in possible details to broaden the scope of each area. Then decide on three key points to support the thesis. Write these below the thesis with an arrow drawn to each, having the student double check that each focal point is on topic and on target. Jot ideas around each supporting point, checking to be certain that each accentuates the thought rather than detract or negate it. Students always ask, "How many paragraphs?" I respond with at least three and rarely more than five. Writing space is fairly short and definitely finite on proficiency exams and too many paragraphs leave no room for intimate detail.
Now that there is an outline, have the child write the first paragraph. When complete, have him/her read it aloud, checking for clarity and continuity. Talk about action verbs, descriptive adjectives, and enlightening adverbs. Dollop in a few of these making sure that each powerful word is only used once. To use it twice is to water it down and detract from the meaning. Discuss transitions as s/he moves to the second paragraph. Add the dollops and again read aloud. Then read both paragraphs, adding and subtracting as needed and then adding the transition that moves the reader onward into the piece. Repeat and repeat until a masterpiece is unveiled. Sing praises and shout with glee and then suggest another topic. Guide again - repetition is essential - and then gradually release intervention as the writer rolls. Encourage heady vocabulary but if your writer struggles with spelling allow simpler words to create a piece that is grammatically correct. It is a shame to limit excellent words but if the piece is polka-dotted with errors, the reader is out of luck.
Once again, write every day in every subject on as many topics as you can dream up. Practice really will make perfect.


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