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I have been asked several times how and when I knew that the strategies, now called Step Up to Writing , were working for students and how I judged my own success.

During the time that the strategies were being developed, I taught middle school students. I was lucky to have the opportunity to work with students in “honors” classes as well as students in classes then called remedial.

I knew I was onto something when students’ writing, reading, and willingness to work improved. I saw improvement with all students. My remedial students perfected their skills lesson by lesson. Students in “honors” classes also perfected their skills; however, they hardly realized this. What they liked was having a new opportunity to organize information, share ideas, and use their imaginations. The structures and strategies I taught saved them time and improved the quality of their work - two things middle school students care about.

Other teachers in my building learned about the strategies. Many applied them daily to help students learn math, health, science, and social studies content. Their enthusiasm, suggestions, and encouragement helped promote the importance of sharing a common language for teaching literacy skills.

Experiences like those described below gave me confidence and a passion for sharing the strategies with all teachers.

"I'm Teaching the Other Students"

Max was an all-around great student. He was one of the students in my class during those first years when I experimented with strategies and applied them in all of my lessons. Max and the others worked with me as we learned and used each strategy.

After 8th grade Max moved east to attend a boarding school where he would be challenged and also have a chance to play competitive sports.

During the following winter break, Max dropped by my classroom to say hi and to tell me about his experiences.

He wanted me to know that he was getting B’s and B+’s on his writing assignments – mostly expository reports and essays.

“No one gets A’s in freshman year,” he explained. “I am the only one getting B’s.”

Then he added, “The stuff you taught all of us about writing has really helped.” He went on because his real goal in the visit was to tell me that he had organized writing groups for other freshman so he could teach them the strategies he had learned.

Max’s visit and our conversation still encourage me and remind me about how practical advice and explicit instructions empower all students.

"I Probably Would Not Be in Prison"

I met Nadine the year before she was ready to retire after 25 plus years working with intermediate students.

Nadine loved Step Up, what it stood for, and what it could do for her students. She used all the strategies faithfully and enthusiastically the years before she retired. After retirement, she dedicated her time to the same school and school district to pass on her passion and experience with these strategies. She made it her goal to train new teachers working with 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.

At the same time Nadine volunteered at the local prison with her husband in his prison ministry. She decided one day to substitute writing instruction for baking cookies. Instead of passing out cookies and encouraging the female inmates, she taught them the same skills she had used with her students.

A few years later, after her success with these writing groups spread, she found herself working with a young man in a minimum security prison.

Like Nadine and Nadine’s students, this young man embraced the strategies. He learned to organize paragraphs, write topic sentences etc.

One day this young man looked at Nadine and asked, “Why didn’t I learn this sooner. If I had, I probably would not have dropped out of high school.”

Then he said, “And I probably wouldn’t be in this place.”

"Let's Raise the Bar"

Dennis, Sally, and Beth shared ninety students identified as “Gifted and Talented.”

Beth “forced” Sally and Dennis to take a week long Step Up To Writing workshop during the summer. They arrived with a plan to leave at the ten o’clock break. Instead, they left at the end of the week ready to take on the world.

Dennis had already made plans to contact 5th graders from the previous year and share reading and writing strategies with them before they headed off to middle school.

During the next few years this trio built their lessons around the strategies they had learned. All three believed that the Step Up strategies improved reading as well as writing skills. On one visit to their team, Sally had her students analyze paragraphs and reports that she projected on a screen. The quality of these 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade writing samples resembled work done by secondary students.

This team and the work their students shared taught me that the expectations for middle level students should be raised dramatically and pushed me to promote a more challenging writing curriculum at my middle school.

This team was the first of many to teach me the value of the strategies I shared. They also inspired me with their creativity and exciting lessons.