Contributing Author: Jeni Boulanger
Teaching good writing habits is always challenging. It takes time to locate engaging text, create meaningful prompts, and grade those hand-written papers, and that makes us teachers inclined to avoid assigning writing like this very often. Yet our students need all the practice they can get in order to see growth. Over the past few months, I’ve integrated Front Row’s writing program into my classroom and seen staggering results!
In my middle school classroom, we focus writing strong claims and using textual evidence to support it. After all, these are the basic skills required to prove a point, no matter what content area we’re talking about. I’ve been using the ACE structure: Answer, Cite Evidence, and Explain. I found this was an easy model to use to communicate my expectations to my students in a way they could really comprehend. In the past, I was using Junior Scholastic articles and other nonfiction texts to provide writing opportunities for my students, but this was time-consuming, required several photocopies, and didn’t provide much ability for differentiation among my students’ diverse reading levels.
When I found Front Row, I was excited to see the potential for nonfiction reading practice and the writing assignments. Right away, I noticed some of the writing prompts that accompanied the nonfiction reading articles were a perfect fit to the writing goal for my students -- making a clear claim, supporting it with textual evidence, and providing an explanation.
In my class, a Front Row article is weekly homework, both the reading and writing components. It is something my students can usually complete within 30 minutes and are excited to do. It is vital to have the ability to differentiate the reading levels on the articles (all Front Row articles are written at 5 different reading levels) to meet my students at their current level. While the writing prompts are also differentiated, the expectation for writing remains the same.
I also enjoy that all their work is neatly contained on the website -- completely paperless! Front Row makes it easy to view and score writing on a 4-point scale. However, my students need more specific feedback, so I also provide meaningful feedback by copying and pasting the students writing (usually a paragraph) into an email I send to them along with all of my comments.
Each week, I select student exemplars to display for class and discuss the “glows and grows.” Students are able to access their emailed feedback and use the comments to revise their paragraph and/or improve their writing on the next assignment. Within a few assignments, I saw tremendous growth in my students’ writing. They were able to see where they needed to improve and worked to do it. Having all their work digital made it easier to keep a record of their progress as well, allowing me to access my comments and their scores at the click of a mouse. Compared to the old method of handing back a paper with red comments all over it, which was usually just skimmed (if that) and placed somewhere never to be found or consulted again, Front Row allowed for easy grading and real growth to happen in my classroom.
I was so happy with the results I was seeing that I used Front Row in my intervention writing class as the sole means to practice their writing. It was highly engaging, as students love to be on the computers, and I saw students who came in without any understanding of writing an ACE response, leave in less than 4 weeks having mastered it! Even those that didn’t master it, showed significant growth. This continues to be reflected in their regular classwork. I am so proud of the growth all my students have made in writing, and I know using Front Row was a big part of it.
The work is paperless, and the data is collected permanently, and I’ve got more time on my hands! I feel confident that with Front Row I can provide my students with engaging and meaningful practice in both reading and writing that yields substantial results!
Jeni Boulanger currently teaches 7th grade Language Arts and Social Studies at Pinon Mesa Middle School in the High Desert town of Phelan, California. She has been teaching middle school (grades 7 & 8) since 1995, and has witnessed many trends in education, some good and some bad. She embraces her role as a teacher to inspire a love of learning among her students and a passion to never stop wondering about the world we live in. She is very enthusiastic about the increasing benefits of technology in the classroom and believes that the potential to reach students through the use of technology is endless!