Using Shared Experiences to Spark Creative Writing for Language Learners (and it’s Testing Time in PA!)

by Jennifer Kobrin on March 16, 2011

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The eleven day window when schools and districts administer the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment in math and reading opened yesterday. If you are not familiar with the test, it helps to determine whether a school is meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), as part of No Child Left Behind. On top of this, English Learner students must take ACCESS, a separate test which measures English proficiency. The window for ACCESS backs up to the PSSA, and is open from January through March.

Rather than elaborate on my opinions about standardized testing, I’d like to spend a little time this week reflecting on the kinds of activities not directly tied to test prep, but that can still create powerful learning experiences for students. Dance clubs, poetry slams, creative writing and journaling, school gardens and farms, community service projects, just to name a few. If done right, all of these can help kids learn academics while building skills like collaboration and teamwork. How can we keep them going in our classrooms and afterschool programs?

On a somewhat related note, a few Friday evenings ago I attended a field trip with Ms. D’Asaro’s ESL club at Mariana Bracetti Academy, a middle and high school in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Kensington has a strong Latino community, and all of Ms. D’Asaro’s students I met are Spanish speakers. I visited Ms. D’Asaro’s ESL club this past November (the ESL club is part of a larger afterschool program run by Foundations). The students have opportunities to receive HW support and attend mini-clinics focused on building their skills, but the ESL club itself also has activities with a cultural flair.

As a reward for excellent attendance in the program, the students went on a field trip to the movies and out to eat. From the first five minutes of the trip, when the students were deciding on what movie to watch, it was really teamwork in action! As us adults stood to the side, the club members quickly took the lead to decide on the most efficient way to record everyone’s preferences to buy tickets, and created a power point slide which projected the movie titles and a photo of each onto the class monitor. The students then helped to find the bus stop and to make sure everyone had a token. Math, communication, computer literacy, and leadership — all of this across both English and Spanish.

The following week, Ms. D’Asaro helped the club record their thoughts on the field trip as part of a writing activity. In groups paired up so that older students were able to work with younger students, the students answered open-ended questions in Spanish and English to create a story. By grouping the sets of questions by beginning, middle, and end on their handout, Ms. D’Asaro helped her students reinforce a narrative (sequential) writing style.

I promised the students that I would post their responses in this blog post (see below). I hope that our other readers enjoy too. I put their individual responses together to create one story.

Our Field Trip

Well, we chose the movie together and got on the bus to Temple. Nosotros eligimos la pelicula en orden, y llegamos en autobús. There were four different movies to choose.

The bus ride was okay and when we got to Wendy’s I had an ice cream. I felt happy. The best part was that I was with my friends.

The movie I chose was Big Momma. The story was that Big Momma is a boy and he needed to dress up like a girl. The funniest part was when the children came out. It was the part when Big Momma broke the table. La pelicula la sentia de que el padre tenia que encontra al guia que se habia perdido en la libreria.

Then we walked to the bus and Katy had popcorn and we were eating it on the way back. The bus ride home was good. We took pictures and stuff. We talked a lot on the way back. It was good because we were all together. This was a good trip because I was with my friends. Next time I want to go skiing and to the Poconos and to the beach and to Dorney Park and to a pool so we can swim.

The End

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