Curriculum & Instruction

How is the writing process taught at IVA? 
We utilize a varied approach to teaching writing at IVA. As school we have not adopted any official writing curriculum. Throughout each unit students read a variety of texts, discuss them as a class, and eventually write about those texts. Although it may seem strange, the readings and conversations are in many ways the first steps of the writing process. As students get comfortable with the texts we are reading and develop their understanding of what the authors are saying, they are better situated to write about those texts. 
Each unit, teachers generally assign a quiz with a few questions about the current novel. Students are asked to write a few paragraphs using evidence from the text as they respond to the question. These responses are collected, graded, discussed allowing students to see one or two sample student essays, and then passed back to students. 
A similar process happens at the end of each unit. Students are generally asked to write an analytic essay with introduction, body, and conclusion responding to a specific question about the book. They are given tips on what to include in their introduction, body and conclusion, but they are necessarily assigned a specific outline for their essays. The hope is that as students continue to write, see other students' writing, reflect on their own writing, and ultimately rewrite (see below) portions of their essays they will gain an understanding of the elements of powerful essays. 
Two other elements of the writing process are staples in the Literature and Composition classroom: Timed Writes and Sentence Composing/Combining. 
Every three weeks (usually on Thursdays), students are presented with a quote or question and asked to write a mini in-class essay arguing a particular point (or thesis). We first look at a few articles, TedTalks, news stories, or other "sources" to collect evidence about that day's question or quote. After reading and discussing the "sources" students write a brief four paragraph essay in the last 15 minutes of class. These essays do have a suggested outline. Students are only graded for these timed in-class essays based on their participation. They only need to give a genuine effort and attempt to write for the full 15 minutes to receive full credit. The essays are placed in the students writing portfolios (kept in class). Toward the end of the semester, students will take one of these "Timed Writes" and, using their original essay as a rough draft, develop a full 4-6 paragraph essay. These essays are read carefully and graded for content. 
With regard to language development and grammar, our main source for exercises is Sentence Composing by Don Killgallon for 6th and 7th grade. 8th graders use a similar workbook called Sentence Combining by William Strong. Both of these books push students to create different types of sentences by studying effective models. Students are asked to look carefully at components of a sentence and create sentences of their own that are varied, creative, and powerful. These exercises are generally done once a week in class. About once a month one of these exercises will turn into a "quiz" in which students turn in their sentences and they are graded using a rubric. 
There are, of course, other elements of the writing process that take place in class, and in other classes as well, but hopefully the brief sketch outlined above will at least give families a small picture of some of things students are asked to do in class with regard to writing
How is writing graded at IVA? 
Writing at IVA is generally graded based on rubrics. While each teacher may vary the rubrics based on the particular assignment, in general each rubric measures students' content and ideas, word choice and syntax, and grammar and spelling. For a list of each rubric, see Illuminate or Google classroom for the given assignment.
Handwritten responses, such as quizzes, are read carefully and given a grade based on the rubric. Specific comments and feedback are generally not given on handwritten responses (see below for more information on feedback). Typed responses, such as performance tasks and take home writing projects, are read carefully, given specific comments and feedback. Following these larger assignments, students are then asked to rewrite some aspect of their response taking in the teacher comments and feedback. 
It should be noted that although handwritten responses are generally not given specific teacher feedback, students are always welcome to bring their writing to office hours to get a better understanding of the areas they are doing well in and the areas for improvement with their writing
What is your process on giving students feedback on their writing? 
As noted above, handwritten responses such as quizzes are generally not given specific feedback. Specific feedback is reserved for larger assignments such as performance tasks and take home writing projects which are generally typed out using Google Docs and submitted on Google Classroom. 
There are several reasons for this decision regarding when feedback is given. One, students are asked to write A LOT throughout each unit. Providing specific feedback on every written assignment is unfortunately not always possible. Two, often the setup of paper documents can make it difficult for teachers to write exactly what they are trying to say. There may not be enough room on the page, or, if the page is somewhat messy or disorganized, the feedback can be confusing or unclear for students. Three, a good rule of thumb in education is to not provide students with specific feedback unless you are going to provide them with an opportunity to put that feedback into action immediately (i.e. rewriting). Each time specific feedback is given on performance tasks and take home projects, students are asked to rewrite and put that feedback to use. This helps students grow as writers. 
Retaking tests and quizzes is encouraged!
In Literature and Composition as in many other classes, students have the option to rewrite. If a student so choses, she could rewrite the same essay or quiz response a dozen times to try to improve her score. The reason for this is the belief that rewriting is one of the best ways to grow as a writer (see above). The best writers will all acknowledge that their first draft of any project is rarely their final product. 
One common condition on this freedom to rewrite is that the rewriting of tests and quizzes needs to happen at school during office hours with teacher supervision. This condition is in place to ensure that the "testing environment" is secure and students are only relying on their own skills and knowledge to rewrite. 
How can I support my child at home with writing
There are a number of ways parents can support the writing process at home. The most important way is to encourage your child to read as much as possible. While reading and writing are by no means the same thing, the two processes are intimately connected, and generally speaking, students who read often have a decided advantage when it comes to writing
The performance task and quiz writing prompts will usually be posted on Google Classroom and Illuminate a few days before that actual test or quiz. You could encourage your child to look over the questions, make sure he understands what they are asking, prepare a few ideas of things he would like to write about in his response, and collect any quotes from the book that might strengthen his response. Quizzes and performance tasks are almost always open note and open book. Having ideas ahead of time can make the test or quiz day a bit more manageable. 
There are a few writing tutorials posted on Google Classroom in the Literature and Composition classes that provide students models of writing in addition to some general feedback and tips for strong writing. Within those classes you can view these videos by searching for the "Writing Tutorials" topic on Google Classroom. Students could view these videos at home, take note of a couple elements of good writing as well as the types of mistakes to try to avoid in their writing
Finally, a good way to support your child is by checking Illuminate on a regular basis to see how your child is doing. If you notice your child is missing a test, quiz, or project encourage him to come to office hours to make up or finish that assignment. Thanks to all of our families for their time and support! Please feel free to contact teachers by email or set up an appointment with additional questions. Our IVA teachers look forward to continuing to work with your child as they grow as writers!