Skip to Content

Finding a Common Language for Writing Instruction

by Nicole Recio, M.Ed.

ELA Instructional Coach, San Marcos CISD

2017 CTWP Teacher Consultant

Do we have a common language for writing?

What strategies can be used across content areas?

How do we assess student writing?

These were the issues that led to the Central Texas Writing Project (CTWP) Open Institute for San Marcos CISD Leadership in July 2017. As a district that is fortunate to have several National Writing Project (NWP) teacher consultants trained either through the CTWP Summer Institutes or the 2016-17 year-long institute for SMCISD secondary teachers, the foundation for having a common understanding of best writing practices was growing. Therefore, the next step became apparent--How do we create a common vision among teachers, campus administrators, and district instructional coaches regarding writing instruction in secondary classrooms at San Marcos CISD?

As a result, the Open Institute was locally designed to train administrators and instructional coaches on strategies to create a common language for teaching and assessing writing across the content-areas. In order to develop a common language, participants spent three days writing, practicing new strategies, and utilizing NWP's Analytical Writing Continuum (AWC) for assessing writing. The AWC is a unique rubric that can be used to assess as well as teach elements of effective writing. The institute was administered by Dr. Liz Stephens (Director of the CTWP), Melanie Boeking (co-director of the CTWP for Professional Development), and Nicole Recio (San Marcos CISD ELA Instructional Coach and CTWP teacher consultant) on July 17, 18, and 21, at Miller Middle School. Participants included five campus principals from Goodnight Middle School and Miller Middle School, five of San Marcos CISD’s secondary instructional coaches (representing English/Language Arts, Math, Science, and Strategic Instructional Model), and one Academic Dean from the high school. Participation was voluntary and members were paid a stipend for completion of the institute.

Provided a writer’s notebook, each administrator participated in the institute as a writing “student.” Writing strategies presented and practiced included 17-word summaries, cubing, listing of writing territories, and double-entry journals. Response groups were also formed and participants applied the “Bless, Address, Press” protocol for sharing their writing. In order to further facilitate discussion, the “Say Something” response tool was utilized, as well as a group mapping activity to formulate the vision of writing instruction at each campus and within the different content areas.

Additionally, guest speakers from across the region came to share their insight and experience with writing instruction at the secondary level. Speakers for the Open Institute included Kerry Ballast, director of Educational Technology at the Texas Education Agency; Caron St. Onge, Curriculum Coordinator for Secondary English Language Arts at Round Rock ISD; Yarda Leflet, Executive Director of Learning and Teaching at Hays CISD; and Melody Howard Verm, Curriculum Coordinator for Secondary English Language Arts at Comal ISD. A teacher panel of eight San Marcos CISD--CTWP teacher consultants shared their experiences and goals for the future regarding writing instruction and implementation within their classrooms and schools.

Vicente Colunga, Assistant Principal at Miller Middle School, reflected on the Open Institute, “I experienced the value of writing first-hand [and] learned various strategies for how to incorporate writing in the classroom.” In three days, many strategies were practiced so that administrators and coaches could not only understand the vision of what writing can look like at their schools, but also be capable of providing teachers with specific strategies. The forum of the Open Institute helped to fuel the optimism for improving writing instruction at San Marcos CISD through explicit instruction and authentic writing experiences.

In complement to the National Writing Project’s philosophy of “teachers teaching teachers,” both Goodnight Middle School and Miller Middle School administrators made a commitment to utilize the CTWP teacher consultants, in partnership with the instructional coaches, as facilitators of professional development for writing throughout the school year.  As campuses prepared for the 2017-2018 school year, the teachers trained their colleagues on writing strategies that could be applied across the content areas. Giving students and teachers “the time to write and share,” as Rose Pearson (Goodnight Middle School Principal) remembered about her experience at the Open Institute, is integral to creating a culture of writing at the district. 

This momentum continues as teacher consultants and instructional coaches shape and deliver professional development by training core content area teachers how to give students more time to practice writing, how to apply writing strategies, and how to use the AWC to assess student writing.

Truly a team effort, San Marcos CISD administrators, instructional coaches, and the CTWP teacher consultants are optimistic about improving writing across the content areas in our schools.

Nicole Recio is the instructional coach for secondary English Language Arts at San Marcos CISD. She led CTWP professional development through TEA's Write for Texas initiative.