I'm pretty sure that I've blogged before about the English teacher I had my Senior year of High School. We all grumbled at the way she made us work to get an "A" in her class, especially an "A" on an essay for her class. Despite all my complaining, she's the teacher I'm perhaps most thankful for. She taught us to develop sound arguments and to express them clearly in our written assignments. It's a skill that served me well in college and in the years since.
The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School, 2nd Edition from Writing with Sharon Watson teaches composition skills that every high school student needs to master before graduating -- skills that will serve them well for a lifetime.
This is the second time that I've used one of Sharon Watson's books with Brennan, and I am as impressed with her composition curriculum as I am with her Illuminating Literature materials (click here to read that review).
One of the best things about using a product from Writing with Sharon Watson is that the materials are written directly to the student in a friendly conversational tone. Brennan says he often rolls his eyes at the humor, but he said it in a good way. He's never felt like the books talk down to him in a condescending way.
The Power in Your Hands starts at the very beginning with a survey of the student's attitude towards writing. Why doesn't every book start that way? Brennan's answers obviously don't change the materials in the text, but it does allow me to better help him through the writing process. For the record, he selected these statements out of a list of approximately 30 descriptive statements) as a way of describing his thoughts about writing:
- I would rather walk across a burning desert at high noon with buzzards circling overhead while I drag a bone-dry water bottle than write anything whatsoever.
- Late at night is the best time to write.
- Writing by hand is pure torture, but writing at the keyboard is a little easier.
- I write best when I'm with friends or listening to music.
- If I'm not interested in the topic, I have trouble doing the assignment.
- You've gotta be kidding. Checking this box is enough writing for me for one day.
I cannot eliminate composition from Brennan's required schoolwork, but I can make some changes to make the work less tedious for him. Some of these potential modifications are shared in the student materials and others I've discovered in the Teacher's Guide.
I'm not usually impressed with teacher's guides that come with a curriculum written to the student. Usually I just look over my students' work and only consult the teacher's materials when I can't figure out the correct answer. The Teacher's Guide for The Power in Your Hands is completely different and well worth reading, studying, and using. According to Sharon Watson, it takes about an hour for an average student to write 100 words. Perhaps that's why most of the written assignments for this course are rather short -- generally 300-500 words for beginning writers. The books also encouraged me as a teacher to remember that I can allow Brennan to practice the thinking and planning stages of writing a composition without insisting on seeing a finished essay every single time.
Much of the Teacher's Guide is devoted to showing me how to fairly grade the assignments that Brennan does write this year. She gives examples of papers that earn each particular grade and explains why one composition earns an A and a different one gets a C or a D. Also, each written assignment has a grading grid for me to use to help determine the grade. These grading grids include ten questions relating to the student's composition, and the teacher assigns points on a 1-10 scale for each one. For instance, "Has the student communicated ideas clearly and expressed them well?" or "Does the conclusion adequately sum up the topic and opinion?" After giving a rating for all ten questions, I can add them up to calculate an overall score on a 100 point scale. What could be easier?
Brennan offered this quote when I asked him about the materials: "It's definitely doable. I mean . . . it's writing." So far The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School has not miraculously made writing assignments the best part of Brennan's day, but it may have moved writing up slightly from being called torture.
Since Addison has a bit of spare time before she heads off to college, I asked her to look through these materials. She was impressed with the wide variety of written assignments that this curriculum would prepare a student to complete. Her high school compositions were primarily persuasive essays, and she found chapters covering letters and emails, literary analysis, newspaper writing, biographies, and more. She thought the chapter on writing emails was particularly helpful as she prepares for college and envisions times where she will be emailing professors instead of just friends.
I'm excited to continue working with Brennan as he uses The Power in Your Hands for his sophomore year of high school. Because of the resources I have in the Teacher's Guide and the clear instructions he has in the Student Book, I feel confident that his writing will improve greatly. With resources like these, perhaps I can also be a high school English teacher that gives my students lasting writing skills.
The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School, 2nd Edition contains two softcover books. The consumable student book is 418 pages long and costs $45. The Teacher's Guide is 224 pages long and costs $20.
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