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TNLI: Action Research: Curriculum Implementation: Research Question/Definition of Problem

Our Teacher Research: Past & Present

Helping all students achieve higher standards

Teacher preparation and new teacher induction   Ongoing teacher professional growth   Teacher networks
Teacher leadership in school change   Helping all students achieve higher standards      

Research Question/Definition of Problem

Executive Summary by Cynthia Brawner

Question:
What happens to third graders' writing when they participate in a reading and letter writing program?

Problem:
Third grade writers struggle with language development, such as letter formation, spacing of words, use of punctuation and capitalization [Berrill p. 5]. Each year teachers use published curricula or design their own to address the skill third graders use and need. The problem found in my third grade writers is that they struggled with all components of letter writing; dialogue, organization, sentence structure, flow, text-connections, vocabulary, mechanics, support from the reading, and making references about themselves.

Rationale:
Within the four core subject areas: language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, writing is a major component in my classroom. However, it was during my years of teaching children and adults that I realized students, many of the primary grades, were not successful in writing. According to teachers and some students, many students loathed writing altogether. Some students thought, "this is too much" or felt, "I'm tired." Others questioned, "Why do we have to write", and complained, "This is unfair". Within my third grade class, I decided to take a hand poll to determine who liked writing. What I found wasn't too far apart from what I've heard from teachers and students over the previous years. I realized a great challenge was ahead since my teaching goal was to help my students become better writers.

Data Collection Process/Tools
After assessing the introductory letters, I noticed several trends among many of the students' writing. During the data collection from the letters, other trends began to emerge. The students had inconsistencies in creating dialogue, in organization, sentence structure using a combination of simple and complex sentences, spelling and using the correct tense, showing evidence of reading the literature, using transitional sentences, and making text-to connections.

During the book discussions, many of the students would begin with "I liked the book 'cause" or "It was good 'cause". However, they had would not transferred their feelings into their letters. They often wrote in fragmented sentences or extremely long sentences and some would have a ten-lined sentence. Other noticeable trends in vocabulary were the use of 'in' for 'and' and the use of 'fill' for 'feel'; incorrectly use the apostrophe [used as a comma at the top of the word]; and the incorrectly use subject and verb tenses
The tools used to provide information are the occurrences of errors I-Letter and the C1, C2, and C3 letters, comments from book discussions, a scoring rubric: that I designed specifically for this pen pal letter writing research, and a rubric guide. The data collected over a period of four [4] months was measured against the tool--letter-writing rubric.

Data Analysis and Findings
That all randomly selected students demonstrated growth in the letter writing process. Their occurrence of errors decreased and their level of writing increased. However, the majority of them continued to struggle with vocabulary and mechanics.

Policy Implications
After analyzing the findings, I strongly believe that the policy implications should be for school districts to require more writing across the curriculum blocks with a link to classroom [school to school] pen pals. The students in this research began as poor writers because of the lack of exposure to letter writing and writing based on reading. . As they corresponded with their pen pal improvements began to emerge. During most of this research, many students struggled with maintaining satisfactory writing and the pen pal dialogue. If school districts, mainly Chicago, stressed the writing in other ways; similar to young authors, students' reading and writing ability will increase.

At a local level, schools can implement writing across the curriculum program. One program that Chicago Public Schools designed in the past was the Read, Write Well. This citywide program provided a means for the reluctant writer to engage and succeed in writing. If CPS were to encourage the K to 2 grades to participate in pen pal groups, and offer writing contests for grades K to 2 and recognize them system wide, writing improvements will be evident.

In the classroom, teachers can create a classroom pen pal letter writing activities or correspond with other schools outside of the city or state to establish the beneficial pen pal letter writing process.

Next Steps
To continue in a pen pal letter-writing program either classroom based or school wide based. A venture would be to promote a pen pal program district wide. Other steps are to continue reinforcing the use of vocabulary and mechanics.

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