April 17, 2024
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MTA’s Writing Program Boosts Student Writing Skills

Far more than middle school, high school requires students to engage in abstract thinking and modes of argument. The skill of writing is crucial for articulating and furthering these arguments and it’s therefore imperative that upon entering high school, students need to quickly and significantly improve their writing. Complicating this mission, students entering high school often arrive with varying levels of writing expertise, since they come from diverse middle schools. And ultimately, communication skills—most specifically writing—are amongst the most critical required skills in almost all fields.

To address these issues, Yeshiva University High School for Boys’ (MTA) Hadassah Siegfried has worked to create a freshman writing curriculum at the yeshiva high school that allows students of all backgrounds to vastly and swiftly improve their writing abilities. Revision, the act of revisiting and improving former essays, lies at the center of Mrs. Siegfried’s curriculum.

Mrs. Siegfried, who had taught previously at MTA from 2002-2005, returned to MTA in the fall of 2011. She was tasked with teaching writing to the entire ninth grade, and used this opportunity to re-structure the writing class around the concept of revision. Her philosophy is that students gain and grow most when they consciously internalize which writing techniques work and which do not. While all writing classes require students to write and feature feedback from teachers, oftentimes students simply scan and ignore these comments. By encouraging and requiring revision, students will work hard to identify the successes and flaws in their writing and work diligently to fix their flaws. Gedalya Aeder, a current freshman, has experienced the power of revision first-hand. He explained that “the freshman writing program has been essential to my improvement in my writing ability. Being able to revise our essays, gives us a chance to learn from our mistakes and to improve upon them.”

Mrs. Siegfried assigns fewer individual writing assignments per semester than other teachers might assign, and instead focuses her efforts on helping students revise and improve their essays. She pores over every essay that gets submitted, offering extensive feedback and corrections. She also meets individually with students during lunch and office hours to review this feedback and counsel students on how to best improve their writing.

To incentivize this revision process, Mrs. Siegfried allows students to rewrite an essay as many times as they wish, and promises that the final grade will only incorporate the grade on the final version of the essay. David Tanner, a junior, explained that “the incentive of increasing my grade made me try hard to improve my writing, with great results.” Tanner emphasized that it was specifically the act of revision that improved his writing, explaining that “going through all of those revisions helped me become a better writer.”

The individual attention that Mrs. Siegfried offers to each student for every iteration of their revised essays, also allows her to teach students at all academic levels. By meeting with students and going over her feedback, she can carefully offer each student the exact direction and instructions they need. Because of this, she can effectively teach students at disparate levels, helping all of them improve their writing skills and prepare them for the challenge of writing at the higher grades.

Building upon the success of the freshman writing curriculum, four years ago MTA added a portfolio section to their writing programs in grades 10 through 12. This portfolio requires students to submit writing from all their years in MTA, and to consciously look at how their writing has improved. At the end of freshman year, for example, Mrs. Siegfried tells her students to upload every draft and revision they wrote during the year. This enables her students to continue to reflect on how their writing has improved. This act of self-reflection serves as the foundation of their portfolio and their writing career. As they move into higher grades, they see first-hand the effects of revision, and this inspires them to continue to work and improve their writing abilities.

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