Writing across the Curriculum
Turning original ideas into insightful products
From an original inspiration, students use their imaginations, careful analysis and copious feedback–not only to edit, but also to rethink and transform their written work.
MKA’s multidisciplinary and research-informed approach to helping students hone their writing skills is process-oriented: Students are expected to brainstorm, organize, draft, revise, rethink and refine their writing. Through this feedback-driven process, students learn not only to improve their writing—so essential to their lives beyond MKA—but also to develop deeper expertise in the subject matter. Conferring with teachers, who act as guides and coaches, is essential to the writing process and a hallmark of MKA’s program.
Our faculty provide both reluctant and enthusiastic writers with the instruction and feedback they need to grow. Through intentional practice, students learn how to handle any writing challenge that they encounter—how to break down a writing assignment and get started, to form questions, to create a hypothesis or thesis, to seek and give help and to process and use feedback to make adjustments.
As a result, MKA graduates durable and confident writers, who consistently report that their college professors are impressed with their writing and that their peers seek them out as writing coaches. In MKA’s most recent young alumni survey, graduates gave the highest marks possible to their analytical writing skills, and many commented that the skills they learned at MKA are essential to their scholarly and professional lives. With this foundation, MKA graduates have the tools to tell any story they want.
Through engaging, genre-based studies beginning in their earliest years at MKA, students come to think of themselves as writers—willing to take on the challenges of communicating effectively in both fiction and nonfiction. Through grade 5, a writing workshop approach (informed by research from Teachers College, Columbia University) ensures that students write every day to develop both a lasting writing habit and an understanding of the many different purposes for writing. Writing celebrations at the Primary School allow students to “publish” their writing for an audience of classmates and parents. Third-grade students learn the power of writing to achieve social change when they submit social action letters to the local newspaper or members of the community.
As students move through the Middle and Upper Schools, teachers challenge them to make their arguments more profound and their writing more eloquent. Through a wide variety of assignments (from a paragraph to five–seven pages), students write critically, creatively and personally. In-class essays ask students to condense their writing process and to formulate and convey their thinking quickly and fluently. Students are encouraged to publish their work in Voices and Visions: Art and Writing from the Middle School and Stylus, the Upper School literary magazine.
Whether writing an analytic essay on Homer’s Odyssey or August Wilson’s play Fences, or a psychoanalysis of Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, students are consistently challenged to develop original theses and angles, never writing by formula or simply reiterating ideas discussed in class. In the Upper School, students are taught to incorporate close critical analysis of literary texts, literary criticism and other outside research into their writing.
Perhaps beyond all else, from personal narratives in the Primary School to the creative nonfiction junior memoir project, students are encouraged to develop their own voice and learn to tell their own story.
MKA Writing Challenge
A benchmark in MKA’s writing program, the Writing Challenge clarifies expectations and helps students to better understand their strengths and weaknesses as writers in an English/language arts context. It encourages students to strive for excellence as they hone both the technical and stylistic aspects of their writing.
The Writing Challenge requires every student in grades 3, 5, 7 and 11 to write an in-school assignment that reflects the learning and writing process practiced most frequently at that grade level. For example, students in grade 3 take four writing workshop periods to draft a personal narrative with limited feedback from their teachers, whereas seventh-grade students independently outline and write a persuasive essay in response to a writing prompt. Juniors take the better part of a morning to read a short story and write an analytical essay in response, citing specific evidence from their reading.
Each Writing Challenge piece is scored on the basis of six key criteria of good writing. For Middle and Upper Schools, these criteria are thesis/topic development, details/support, organization, style/voice, word choice and grammar/mechanics. Unlike a typical class assignment, the Writing Challenge pieces are blind-scored by a large group of English/language arts teachers, and two teachers must agree on the assessment of each writing criterion. Students receive individual feedback, which facilitates goal-setting. Trends in students’ performance as a whole help to inform teachers in making curricular and instructional adjustments.
Writing in social studies and history emphasizes thoughtful inquiry, careful analysis and synthesis of ideas to ensure a viable and substantial thesis and coherent support through evidence-based argumentation. Students learn to think like historians as they use their writing to examine social and historical issues and trends from a variety of perspectives. As students develop their research skills, they are expected to draw from a variety of primary and secondary scholarly sources to interpret history and consider both historic and modern social implications.
Frequent writing assignments, both informal and formal, provide opportunities for students to synthesize their thoughts and refine their ability to communicate their thinking clearly. Conferring with their teachers and using that feedback to refine their written work, students develop the critical thinking and writing skills essential to historians and scholars.
Primary School students write down their insights and develop their own angles—whether communicating research findings related to a historical figure or writing a social action letter to a local government official. As they learn to think like historians, Middle School students write not only traditional research papers each year, but also analytical essays, document-based questions (DBQs), journals and mock blogs. Frequent writing opportunities prepare eighth-grade students well for their major Colonial research paper, which involves a Williamsburg visit to gain firsthand understanding of their individually selected and developed topics. Middle School students often publish samples of their writing for social studies/history class in Voices and Visions: Art and Writing from the Middle School.
Upper School students also write frequently in history class—for homework assignments, in-class essays, essays on exams and DBQs, which require students to thoroughly analyze and make meaning of a variety of primary source documents. As students progress through each year’s research process, they further develop their ability to analyze findings and synthesize information into coherent support for a thesis of substance. The research curriculum culminates in the Junior Thesis, a significant, yearlong research project through which students become experts—able to converse and write in depth about topics of scholarly interest. Selected students are encouraged to submit their work for formal publication in MKA’s The Primary Source and in The Concord Review, an international publication that celebrates the finest scholarly research of high school students.
At MKA, writing in science is both writing to learn and writing to communicate. As they practice communicating their findings to others in ways that are both insightful and scientifically accurate, students come to value clear communication, precise use of scientific vocabulary, and the writing process as a means of refining their thinking and analysis.
Beginning in the Primary School and throughout their Middle School years, students write and receive feedback frequently. By consistently annotating their notes and their observations, students rethink, revise and refine their understanding of scientific concepts. Middle School students learn to write formal lab reports one or two sections at a time and incorporate feedback to clearly convey their observations and scientific analysis. By the time students complete their eighth-grade independent science project, they have had a great deal of practice not only in conducting their own experiments, but also in writing about their scientific process and thinking.
As Upper School students develop their critical thinking, they express their findings more succinctly and with better reasoning to support their conclusions. Upper School scientists write up full lab reports and focus their data analyses on drawing meaningful conclusions from their investigations. At times, this work is supported by library research to better understand the science they are studying or the laboratory work they are conducting. Students who choose to pursue AP and Science Research Honors courses additionally read and emulate the style of peer-reviewed articles as they write up their own research with the goal of reaching publication quality.
Study of a modern world language (Chinese, French or Spanish) focuses explicitly on developing students’ writing skills in conjunction with listening, speaking and reading. Latin students also write frequently (in both Latin and English) to develop their critical thinking and refine their translation and interpretation skills.
MKA students apply cross-curricular writing-process skills directly to their writing in world language class. Drafting and revising with the help of teacher feedback are hallmarks. Ultimately, a commitment to writing enables students to think more deeply about what they are studying and to think in another language.
Students are exposed to a modern world language from Pre-K on and practice writing in the target language beginning in their Primary School years. The development of written expression takes on greater emphasis in Middle School as students learn to express themselves more coherently and with more precise use of vocabulary and grammatical structures. Upper School students who began their study in Primary or Middle School are able to compose several pages in the target language with relative ease—and with clarity and nuance. They write in a variety of genres, including journals, travel brochures, movie reviews and analyses of short stories that they read in the target language.
Students of Latin also do a significant amount of writing—in Latin and in English—to process and capture what they have learned. In addition to a variety of creative assignments, Latin students write essays that examine literary and rhetorical elements as well as historical context of the works they translate, and through their writing develop their own interpretations and critical analyses.