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Monday, September 12, 2011

Writing About Treasure

September 13, 2011

Dear Sexton Mt. Families:                                                                                                  

On Sunday we moved our daughter into a dorm at Oregon State University. Driving away, leaving her behind, knowing it would be several weeks before we see her again, I felt a bit sad.  My pity party continued up I-5 until almost Woodburn when I realized that she was well prepared for her independence and I could be confident in her success. It seems like just the other day she was off to kindergarten but we’ve been preparing for independence and her journey to college and adulthood since birth.  Encouraging her to be a caring human, a creative problem solver, responsible, respectful and safe, all started long ago. I can also confidently say that the Beaverton School District prepared her academically for college success.

Accordingly to David Connelly, a researcher on college and career success, one of the academic skills students need in order to be successful for post-secondary success is writing.  Throughout the year, our staff and students will be working on refining writing instruction and improving writing skills.  We will do school-wide writing projects and work to make instruction from one grade level to the next seamless so that our students have a strong foundation for middle school.

You probably already know the project that we are doing this month.  Students have been invited to bring a treasure to write about. My “treasure” is a small flashing light I wear on my hat each morning when I walk.  The light represents my daily hour of “me time” with a friend.  Side by side, we walk through my dark neighborhood and talk while my flashing light alerts drivers to our presence.   Teachers’ treasures represented a range of memories from first marathons to tenth triathlons. From pizza tins to special blankets, teachers shared and modeled the art of crafting a tale about their treasure.

Third grade teacher Weise Spidal was holding a sand dollar in her palm.  Twenty-four third graders sat on the floor leaning forward to catch every detail of the story of her treasure.  Long ago, her boys had gone to the beach and brought back a special treat for their mom.  Students made connections to the story then turned knee to knee to share their own stories of special treasures.  Matthew and Nishanth sat knee-to-knee and almost nose-to-nose to share their ideas. Each listening to the other with eager anticipation, they shared, listened, questioned and clarified.

At lunch, Susanna and Kasech, second graders, talked about their treasures.  Kasech had a special book, given to her by members of her church when she was sick. In a second grade way, she described how the book represented the caring and compassion of a community coming together to show love. Susanna talked about a special book of photos and pictures that represented special memories of family time.  Both had long stories with lots of details about their item.  I happened to visit the classroom later when Susanna shared her shiny treasure with the class and the teacher talked about “watermelon ideas” versus “seed ideas.”  From the big ideas that her treasure represented, the things that Susanna had talked about at lunch, she was able to narrow her topic to one moment in time, one ride at Disneyland that represented her love of family memories.

In Kim Parson’s class, fourth graders helped describe her special treasure.  Olivia was able to take the teacher’s story of finding a treasure on the beach in Maui and add concise words to help the listener imagine what it would be like to walk on a sandy beach and come upon something special.

Fifth grader, Brynn shared a puppet and how it represented a special trip.  Her teacher strategically asked questions that narrowed the topic from a big family adventure to one moment in time during a puppet show.  In the same class, Michiko shared a worn pair of ballet slippers.  Though the slippers represented her years of dedication of learning the art of dance, she was able to narrow her memory to the moment in time when she was on stage and her whole family was there to see the fruits of her labor.  In another class, students learned how to use a graphic organizer to plan writing.

Through this shared experience, we hope to teach children that clarity and details make writing more interesting for the reader or audience.  This writing trait is referred to as “Ideas and Content.”  “Ideas and Content” are in a sense the heart of writing.  Everything that is said comes back to ideas and content. Making a topic clear and manageable is so important.  Details can make or break a piece.   Currently in Oregon, six different traits are analyzed and we’ll focus on these throughout the year.  A description of each of the six traits follows. 
1.     Ideas and Content-Writing should be clear, focused and interesting.  The piece should hold the readers attention.  The main ideas stand out and are developed by supporting details suitable to audience and purpose.
2.     Conventions-Writing should demonstrate strong control of standard writing conventions (e.g., punctuation, spelling, capitalization, grammar and usage) and uses them effectively to enhance communication.  Errors are few and minor.  Conventions support readability.
3.    Voice-The writer has chosen a voice appropriate for the topic, purpose and audience.  The writer demonstrates commitment to the topic and there is a sense of “writing to be read.”  The writing is expressive, engaging or sincere.
4.    Organization-The organization enhances the central idea and its development.  The order and structure are strong and move the reader through the text.
5.    Word Choice-Words convey the intended message in an interesting, precise and natural way appropriate to audience and purpose.  The writer employs a broad range of words that have been carefully chosen and thoughtfully placed for impact.
6.    Sentence Fluency-The writing has an easy flow and rhythm.  Sentences are carefully crafted, with strong and varied structure that makes expressive oral reading easy and enjoyable.

The Beaverton Literacy targets in writing break down what kids need to know and be able to do at each grade level for each trait.  The grade level targets for  “Ideas and Content” in writing are below.   

·       Write unconventional simple messages or directions for a specific reason; purpose; or person (Audience/Purpose)
·       Write unconventional brief stories that use drawings to support meaning and labels objects and places (Main Idea)
First Grade
·       Write with assistance, write for different purposes and to a specific audience or person (Audience/Purpose)
·       Develop an idea with an identifiable beginning, middle and end (Main Idea)
·       Use descriptive words when writing (Description/Detail, Transitions)
Second Grade
·       With guidance make reasonable judgments about what to include in written compositions (Audience/Purpose)
·       Group related ideas.  Develop an idea with an introductory sentence, supporting sentences and a concluding sentence (Main Idea)
·       Select and use descriptive words when writing (Description/Detail, Transitions)
Third Grade
·       Write appropriately for purpose and audience (Audience/Purpose)Group related ideas to maintain a consistent focus (Main Idea)
·       Begin to elaborate descriptions (Description/Detail, Transitions)
Fourth Grade
·       Choose the form of writing that best suites the intended purpose (Audience/Purpose)
·       Focus on a central idea, excluding loosely related, extraneous, and repetitious information (Main Idea)
Fifth Grade
·       Choose the form of writing that best suites the intended purpose (Audience/Purpose)
·       Focus on a central idea, excluding loosely related, extraneous, and repetitious information (Main Idea)
·       Provide details and examples to support ideas.  Provide transitions to link paragraphs (Description/Detail, Transitions)

Writing is a process!  Children and adult writers alike can often feel paralyzed by the idea of perfection. If a child has an idea of what their end product might look like then they look at a blank page, it may seem impossible to go from nothing to capturing all the ideas they have.  Writing is one area that is so open ended that it’s often hard for a child to even begin.  We recognize this and will provide plenty of supports but we won’t expect perfection.  We will expect kids to work hard and we will accept their best effort. We want kids to value the process and gain independence as writers so they grow into knowing how to independently produce their own best work.   As parents, you will get to see the progression of work over time with different writing assignments.  In our hallways, expect to see best effort but not perfection.  
Help us celebrate the process.

Families can do several things to support this process.  Help your child develop oral language by talking.  From recounting the events of the day to describing a sunrise, your spoken words provide the vocabulary for the written word.  Help your child build writing stamina by encouraging them to write daily.  Write favorite songs or poems.  Write lists.  Write about the adventures of the day.  Write plans for the future.  Write about the books you are reading, games you’re playing or what’s for dinner.  Just 15 minutes a day can build the muscle and mind memory to make assigned writing pieces easier.  Practice makes proficient.  At school, parents can volunteer to listen to students share writing.  We will also need volunteers to display writing in our hallways.  Let your child’s teacher know if you are able to put up bulletin boards or can offer encouragement to a young author.  We also hope to have a range of adult writers come to visit our students throughout the year so if you or someone you know is a writer, let us know.  We’d like our kids to learn from you.

Relationships are the heart of teaching and learning.  I have enjoyed this first week of getting to know your children through their stories and treasures. Natalie wrote a lovely note about the difference between bison and buffalo.  Elly shared with me a lunch-box story her mom is writing for her.  It’s so interesting to learn about the lives of kids through their interests and stories.  We are off to a great start!  Thank you for sharing your children with us.  I’ll see you Thursday at Back to School Night.


Dr. Teresa Clemens-Brower
a.k.a.  Mrs. C.-B.

Reminders and FYI

Sign Up for E-News (190 paper Copies of this Newsletter Already Saved!)
If you would like to have the newsletter sent electronically to your family (thereby saving paper), please send an email to with “newsletter and your child’s name” in the subject line. You can also follow the news on my blog. Check out it out at

FYI-Flip Flop Injuries Reported
Our custodian has noted a correlation between flip-flops and falling kids.   Flip-flops don’t seem to stay on the feet as well as sneakers.

September 15              Back To School Night (Curriculum Night) 6:30-8:00pm
During this important evening, you will have a chance to hear about our school and each classroom’s curricular goals.  We will start in the gym for a short presentation unlike any you’ve seen before on Back to School Night.   Teachers will hold three sessions with identical content so that families with more than one child can plan accordingly.  Thanks in advance for walking to school that night if you can since parking is often tight.
6:30-6:50-Presentation in the Gym
6:50-7:10-Session 1     7:15-7:35-Session 2     7:40-8:00-Session 3
Student Verification Form
Please review your child's Student Verification form and complete or correct all missing or erroneous information.  Pay particularly close attention to your address, phone number, zip code, emergency information and employment.  Sign the form and return it to school as soon as possible.

District Goal for 2010-2015:  All students will show ­­­continuous progress toward their personal learning goals, developed in collaboration with teachers and parents, and will be prepared for post-secondary education and career success.
The Beaverton School District recognizes the diversity and worth of all individuals and groups.  It is the policy of the Beaverton School District that there will be no discrimination or harassment of individuals or groups based on race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, marital status, age, veterans' status, genetic information or disability in any educational programs, activities or employment. 
Sexton Mountain Elementary School n 15645 SW Sexton Mountain Drive n Beaverton, Oregon 97007 n Office: 503.672-3560 n FAX 503.673-3563

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