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Dickinson teachers seek change to help students better learn how to write

According to state officials, writing, now more than ever, is an important communication tool. Teachers at Dickinson High School want to change the way writing and literature are taught at the school, making sure there is a bit of writing each year of high school.

Melanie Kathrein and Cindy Koppinger of the language arts department came to the School Board during its regular meeting Monday, which unanimously approved the change beginning next school year, 2013-14.

"In the structure and sequence of classes that are being offered, some of our students are not as prepared as we like them to be when they get to juniors and they're taking the ACT test and they're taking the state assessment," Kathrein said.

Writing was identified as an issue in a study of DHS test scores, she said.

Because of the way the curriculum was structured, students didn't have a required literature class during their sophomore year, leaving them unprepared for the ACT, which can be taken as early as September of a student's junior year.

"I think what I heard in our meeting earlier was with the ACT now having a writing component, this is really a reason to make that move," School Board President Kris Fehr said.

Kathrein's and Koppinger's proposal combines writing and literature classes in the freshman and sophomore year, creating an English A and B course in the graduation requirements.

The change also moves the speech requirement to junior year. The American literature in junior year and British or modern literature requirement in senior year would remain the same. The English courses would replace literature 9, composition 9, literature 10 and composition 10.

"Best practices do show that often models, especially literature models, are good for the writing component," Koppinger said.

A study the district has done confirms that, Kathrein said.

"The things that we've studied ... really supports that model of using mentor texts for kids and that they view themselves as a writer because of what they read," she said. "They try to be authors like authors are."

Curriculum is decided at the local level, said Greg Gallagher, North Dakota Department of Public Instruction director of standards and achievement. But they still have to meet standards set by the state.

"They want students to be able to read like a detective and write like a reporter," he said. It means that students will be able to read into detail as well as understand grand themes when they read, and are able to write by discerning the issue and deal with broad themes and fine details.

"Good writers are good readers," Gallagher said. "There's a natural connection interchange -- a flow between reading and writing."

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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