When I was a student, we learned writing skills via a series of assigned essays and uninspiring writing prompts doled out by teachers who gave me little to no choice in the content and subject matter of my writing (e.g. “Write an essay about the three branches of government,” or, “How does X author demonstrate Y concept in this book you have no interest in?”). At Alpha, we have a better way. So, what do we do differently?
In Level 1 (primarily 3rd and 4th grade), our students eagerly gather at 9:00 AM for what we call “Writing Rally.” Each Guide runs their own “writing squad” where they work with a group of approximately ten students, coaching them as they craft a piece about a specific writing topic. Alpha Guides do their very best to design prompts that students will find intriguing, stimulating, and exciting to write about — topics that make students think outside of the box and stretch their creativity. To give a few examples, my catalog of writing topics have included:
- Fake News! Students were journalists covering ridiculous, wacky, totally made up news stories. The students also “interviewed” Guides and other students in the class about the incident/event they covered.
- Spooky Stories. Students penned spooky stories filled with suspense and mystery. Students created their own monsters and creatures, chose creepy settings, and let the creepy stories unfold!
- Rate It. Students became film critics in this writing squad! They explored what makes a movie exemplary versus mediocre, discussed character and plot development, and rated the overall movie.
While students are in their writing squads, they learn to edit and accept critiques, practicing Alpha’s life skill of giving and receiving feedback.
After students go through a few rounds of revisions, they are eligible to be published on our Alpha Writing Blog! To be published on the blog, their work must meet three standards: 1) The spelling and grammar is flawless. 2) The content is clear and easily understandable by test readers. 3) The piece tells a story or makes an argument that is unique. Once students meet these standards, we publish their piece on the blog, showcasing their work to family, friends, and the world. Each writing piece we publish includes a brief bio about the student, offering readers context about the author behind the writing.
When Alpha students see their writing on a public forum (following the hard work they put in to arrive at their finished product), they gain an enormous sense of accomplishment. This is the Alpha way — students gain confidence as they develop work that’s worthy of being published…in fact, they’re motivated by this.
When I was in school, every writing assignment I turned in was graded, returned to me, and then promptly forgotten by both my teacher and me. At Alpha, every writing assignment a student completes is celebrated and displayed publicly for all to see.