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 analytical 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.
Read more about research in English/Language Arts.