'Project Write' spells successWhile some nutritionists may argue with the sentence "hamburgers are good," it is whetting the appetite's of Migrant Education first-graders hungry to learn how to write. On July 14, Kern County Superintendent of Schools' Migrant Education Trainer Hopie Gomez had a large painting of a hamburger with all its juicy ingredients hanging from the chalkboard in a classroom at Browning Road School in McFarland. Gathered around her were summer school students anxious to contribute what they knew about hamburgers. In the back of the class, their summer school teacher, Susie Robles, watched and took notes. Written in indelible ink on construction paper were words the students had come up with to describe a hamburger.
You've got to help me write a sentence with the words you've given me," Gomez told the class. "What is juicy?"
"The meat," came one reply.
"What else?" Gomez asked.
"The tomato, too," chimed in another youngster.
"How would we write a sentence to tell someone else what is juicy?" Gomez continued.
A little girl piped in, "The meat and tomato are juicy?"
"What is missing?" Gomez said, as she wrote on the construction paper. "The period at the end of the sentence. Now, let's work on a paragraph."
What the students were learning and what was being used as a model to train Robles is a technique called "Project Write." It had been around for years but kind of set aside for awhile when other forms of writing were tried. Migrant Education Program Coordinator Philomena Hall suggested bringing it back to see if it could speed up learning and understanding. Among those who trained with Hall were Gomez and Katie McNamara, who was also training teachers at Browning Road School. Project Write has been back in the classroom for about five years now.
"It's an easy way to organize thoughts and ideas that lead up to writing a sentence," McNamara said. "You can use cause and effect, contrasts, similarities and chronologies to get students involved in writing. You start out by having students provide main categories. Then details for the categories. Then, they learn to piece them together to make compound sentences."
McNamara said she and Gomez have trained just about every kindergarten through eighth grade district in the county. The real emphasis is on first-graders who, various studies have shown, struggle with writing when they reach second grade and beyond if they have not picked up the basics by then.
"But the great thing about Project Write is it's very structured so it can be applied to any setting and any kind of writing," said Matt Woessner, McFarland Unified School District Migrant Education coordinator.
McNamara offers herself as an example of how well Project Write works.
"I frequently tutor college students to help them write papers and prepare for tests, too," McNamara said. "Eighty percent of tests are cause and effect. College students still have to use the same process. They still have to know how to edit and process. Scores go up when the Project Write methodology is used. I know. I was an English major in college and once got a "D" on a test. Getting a credential doesn't automatically prepare you to teach writing. Phil Hall's mentoring helped me become a better teacher with Project Write and now I am helping others do the same."
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