My Essay (intentionally lame title) Or “On why FCAT Writing Scores Tanked”

You can download the PDF here:  MY essay on the FCAT WRITING

And come back next week for the REAL reasons… Let me know what you think. 🙂


Writing Situation: Your state’s writing scores have fallen and lots of people are trying to determine why.

Think about what you believe is the main reason(s) for this.

Now write to persuade the public to agree with your reasons.


Dear public,

Imagine being told one day, that instead of writing from left to right on paper, you have to write from right to left. Wouldn’t that be difficult?  Well, 84% of Florida 10th grade students were writing above grade level in 2011 but that number took a nosedive to 34%[1] in 2012, causing the state to call an emergency meeting and change the passing rate from a 4 to a 3.[2]  There are several reasons people say this has happened. Some people say the state has raised the bar too high too quickly. Some think that our students are getting dumber. Other people say that teachers are to blame.[3]

First[4], some people say that the state has raised the bar too high in too short of a time. They say this because when it comes to conventions of grammar and spelling, “the scoring of this element in the past has been applied with leniency.” It was also scored this year with “increased attention to the quality of details, requiring use of relevant, logical, and plausible support, rather than contrived statistical claims or unsubstantiated generalities.”[5]  When students suddenly have to worry about things like spelling and grammar, or making sense, that’s hard.  You can’t expect change overnight. Students should not be held accountable for what they have always done. [6]

In addition, some think that our students are getting dumber. For example, Maggie Meyer has been teaching for 42 years and says that each year the kids get dumber.[7] “They just get dumber,” she said.  More students take remedial classes every year and the highest enrolled classes on any college campus these days are remedial Math, Writing, and Reading. The University of Central Florida had a remedial writing enrollment of 22% a decade ago, up to 94% this year.[8] Kids just aren’t as smart as they used to be.

Finally, other people say that teachers are to blame. Take my teachers for example. Every year we write essays like these, to some dumb prompt that they give us. They said we had to because the school wanted to make sure their students would get high scores on the state test. They said all the trainings and our textbooks focused on this model. They said that thesis statements must be in the first paragraph with the three points as a blueprint for the paper, and the last paragraph should restate the thesis. They said that we have to use transition words because that is what the state would look for. They told us not to worry about our spelling as much—mostly our organization. They told us to support what we said with details—even make them up and sometimes they gave us ones to use—said the state wouldn’t care. They showed us papers that the state had given them and that was how we were supposed to write. Then, one day, they wanted us to be what they called “real writers” and move past this “formula” model but it was just too hard. That is why teachers are to blame. [9]

I mean, I’m not a writer. [10]

In conclusion, people believe there are many reasons for the drop in scores. Some think the state raised the bar, some think the kids are dumber, and some think teachers are to blame.[11] I think all three are good reasons. What do you think?


Tamara as-a-student Doehring [12]


[1] This number is completely made up.

[2] This sentence does not have a logical connection to the first two.

[3] The author realizes that her paragraph is 7 sentences long instead of the standard 4-6. In the author’s defense, one of the sentences is a fragment.

[4] Note transition taken from a “list of transitions” chart – page 48 in a textbook*

    *even though footnotes should not have footnotes, just wanted to point out that the author does not really have a reference or textbook

[5] Author notes these are quotations from a legitimate source but since the author only uses random, made-up statistics, the actual information of where she received this is not important. Instead, readers should applaud her ability to support her point with details.

[6] The author has more to say here but the time limits require she move on. Plus she has reached 6 sentences in this paragraph.

[7] Maggie Meyer is a made-up name so if someone by this name reads this, the author extends  an apology

[8] Impressive statistic.  No offense intended to University of Central Florida or student body.

[9] Author notes and apologizes for sentence structure not varying and for this paragraph being too many sentences.

[10] Oops. Sorry to make this a six paragraph essay but this final point really felt it had to be made. Author apologizes and gladly accepts a lower score for the first sentence of a paragraph not followed by support.

[11] High quality restated thesis

[12] Since the author did not have enough time or space to complete her thought on this topic, please come back next week when she shares her thoughts in more detail.


Looking Foward to Research…

When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.   –Benjamin Franklin

Every year you see them.

They move through the halls like zombies carrying stacks of papers and a jug of coffee. Often they are mumbling incoherently, something about “I taught them this…” or “If I read one more…”  You see these crazed beings for a few weeks each year and even though you might typically have lunch with them, during these weeks they barely leave their cave-room and instead, lurk in shadows over mounds of papers. I am talking about the English teacher, of course, in the midst of grading the “dreaded” research paper.

For some reason, this annual torture seems a necessary part of our profession—a rotten part of the job we hope to make better every year, but find ourselves disappointed when once again, these young people don’t grasp the concept of what it means to research.

This is also where we fail time and time again by not adapting to the change in research methodology to meet the needs of today’s students. The research process has changed rapidly in the past decade and we have not entirely caught up in our classrooms. As those tortured teachers can tell you, many students are primarily taught research as a unit, for a single paper, often done in the 11th grade.

A few decades ago this might have been fine when the only way one could do research was to use the resources at the local library. The goal was different then, also. It was designed to teach the research process for students entering college where they would be expected to write formal research papers. Our world outside of academia did not require a lot of knowledge for research skills. The general population could rely on select elite who were in charge of providing us with information and we generally trusted those sources.

But today’s world involves an increasing demand for reading between the lines. As we encounter an endless supply of information, the need to evaluate and synthesize that text is vital. Bias in media is rampant and we can no longer rely on every news station to provide clear, impartial information.  And our students are struggling.

Understanding reliable sources versus unreliable ones is an ever-increasingly difficult task. This is not just a result of the internet. This is a result of the accessibility of information—from text messages to cable television to vanity presses. We also have an environment where copyright infringement treads into murky waters and we need to do better at guiding our students.

Research skills—validating sources, understanding copyright, synthesizing text—do not need to be taught as a sole unit for a research paper. Our classrooms should be models of skills they need in the real world. With our ever-increasing demands on curriculum, we need to find inventive ways of efficiently teaching a number of skills at once. We can provide more engaging ways to learn the process year round while also incorporating other components of the curriculum such as technology, media skills, and writing in other genres.

I am always looking for ways to make the best use of a teacher’s time by combining skills, activities, and standards.  In the Modern Research Model, that is precisely what happens.

Instead of a final paper, the students write a blog or create a magazine based on their interests.

These two models are presented in lessons designed to cover a day or two over 12-14 weeks so that the research process becomes and integral part of your curriculum. You can pretty easily adapt these lessons to be more or less rigorous and more or less time-consuming. In this collection, I tried to find a middle balance and have created it with the 9th grade student in mind. This collection is arranged in three parts.

Part one is the BLOG model. Students will create a blog on a topic of their interest. Lessons will add a new component to the blog each week that not only address a different aspect of research, but also teach technology (hyperlinks and importing media), and a new writing genre (informational or personal essay).

Part two is the MAGAZINE model. The magazine will incorporate concepts such as multiple genres (editorial, personal essay, how to, etc.) as well as technology (design-based) and research skills each week. The final product is a publishable magazine to share with other students.

Part three includes resources to use with both models. Online resources, tutorials, and samples are designed to provide additional assistance.

Worried you might not be techno-savvy enough to pull a project off like this? No worries. This collection will walk you through all the steps you need. In the blog project, you will create a blog prior to the students, so you can predict and share any kinks in the process. Also, this is an important characteristic of this generation. They are not afraid of technology and will find ways to make it work. When you hand over the reins, they will often surprise with collaboration and dedication. Let the students teach you. The future of education includes teachers as mentors and learners, working side by side with students, not in front of the room as disseminators of knowledge. Use that to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to hand some teaching to them.

If you still want to do the formal research paper, you are in a much better starting place after having done one of these models since much of the research, writing, synthesizing and organizing are already done.  In each option, students will write approximately 3,000 words total on a single subject.

The most important aspect of this model is it creates engagement. Students are not writing for the sole purpose of a grade for you. They are researching and writing to share it with others. This matters for this generation and it will matter in the effort they put forth.

Make use of this text and please let me know ( what you think. I would love to hear about your successes and suggestions for improvement. As things change, I am sure this book will too.

Research Sites Worth Saving

FactCheck provides free resources for educators to find relevant research intended to cut through the spin and propaganda of local media. An education component on FactCheck called FactCheckEd provides a full year’s worth of lessons adaptable for middle and high school. This site is a go-to site during this next year as they take a close look at political ads, claims, and candidates.

ProCon is on one of my favorite sites as they provide both sides of a topic.  Search through 40+ controversial issues and see the collection of information they provide (with citations) for evidence supporting both sides of an argument.  This is a great way for students to find topics of interest and have the resources right at their fingertips.

Noodle Tools. Teachers that spend classroom time teaching how to create a works cited, or require note cards, are really wasting much of their time. Students today will work mostly electronically and often articles and information contains the citations already. Sites such as this will walk students through the process and create the works cited for them.

Wikipedia. Some people are still anti-Wikipedia for research. Wikipedia is not going away and what we want to teach students is that Wikipedia can be a great place to start—and the great thing about it—the citations listed at the bottom.  This is a necessary element in Wikipedia and will help researchers find information.

English Teacher’s Friend Delicious Account (Student Research Tag)  Delicious is a social bookmarking site. Click on the link above and you will find all of the above resources and more. As I add more sites that are helpful for student research I simply add them to this Delicious tag. Check back in or follow this Delicious account to see updated links.

The Online Writing Lab (the OWL) at Purdue University is excellent and might be the only resource you need. Covers all things research related.

Internet Public Library  is an online reference site, the IPL organizes websites into subjects as well as provides links to e-texts, magazines, and newspapers.

The Learning Network (NY Times Education Blog) provides lessons and resources for teachers using current news.




Grammar instruction by way of worksheets and rote memorization of rules does not work. If you are using grammar bell ringers, ask yourself if you see that learning transferred into their writing. It doesn’t happen.

Why do we still give grammar tests and ask students to label and recognize rules of grammar. This is time wasted in today’s world. Write. Write. Then write some more. Students, even those struggling the most, typically have only a few real grammar issues that they need to learn and watch for. Find their individual issues through writing.

Use this to have a single page to highlight all the main elements to cover over the year. Use the reference column to provide pages/websites/etc. where students can find extra resources to help them learn the material.

Single Page Grammar and style issues

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