About the Author
Douglas B. Reeves, Ph.D. is President of the Center for Performance Assessment and the International Center for Educational Accountability. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including the 20-Minute Learning Connection series, which received a prestigious Parent's Choice Award. He works with parents, teachers, and school leaders throughout the world to raise student achievement and improve educational practices.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Chapter 1: Why Is Writing So Important?
We haven't met yet, but I think I already know some important things about you. You like school, at least most of the time. You've been going to school long enough now to know that some days are better than other days. Some days are exciting, and others are boring. Most kids are nice, but some are mean. Most teachers care about you, but a few seem to be pretty stressed out. In other words, you're a pretty typical kid in a pretty typical school.
Now that I know a little about you, let me tell you a few things about me. My name is Doug, and I write books for teachers, parents, and kids. I have four children. Their names are Brooks, Alex, Julia, and James, and they are now in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. I'm also a teacher, and have taught students in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. And just like you, I'm also a student, because I'm always learning new things. Even though I'm a grown-up with kids and a job, I still go to school, take classes, and try to learn new things all the time. I am also taking cello lessons. I'm just a beginner, and I'm not very good at it yet, but I know that if I keep practicing, I'll get better. In fact, some of the things I've learned from being a student help me understand what you are going through in school. Sometimes being a student is fun, but sometimes it's frustrating. Sometimes my teacher says, "Good job!" and he really means it, and sometimes he says, "Good job," and I can tell that I still need a lot of work.
Even though we haven't met, I think I know a lot about how you feel about school and about writing. We both like to do our very best work. The problem is figuring out how to do that. This book will help you do your very best work in writing.
Thinking about your strengths and the things you care about most will help you be a better writer. So right now, please write down some important information about yourself below.
In school, my three best subjects are:
Things I do very well (try to think of different things than the subjects you listed above):
I care very much about these three things:
These three things make me mad:
Writing for Real People
"But writing is easy!" you might say. "Every kid knows how to write!" There is a very important difference between writing words on a piece of paper and writing stories, essays, letters, and poems that make your ideas clear. Think about it this way. What do you need when you want to talk about something you care about or something that makes you mad? You need a listener. It's okay to talk in the bathtub or when you play with stuffed animals, but let's face it: It's much nicer when a real person is listening to you. Real people ask you questions. Real people want to learn more about your ideas. Real people show that they care about what you say. When you talk to a good listener, you want to tell your best stories and share your best ideas. When you imagine a reader for your writing, you will want to write your best so that your reader understands your ideas.
Think about who you like to share your ideas and stories with: a parent, a friend, or a teacher. Think about sharing your ideas with someone you've never met: a favorite author, an athlete you admire, or even someone you've read about in social studies or science class. Imagine these people as your readers. Below, list as many people as you can think about who might be interested in your writing.
Other people who might want to read my writing:
Each time you write, think of your reader. You are writing not only for yourself, but also for your audience.
Why is Writing So Important?
You're probably pretty busy. Students like you are often involved in sports, after-school activities, playing with friends, music lessons, and lots of other things. You might think that writing takes too much time. Let me explain why writing is so important. Writing helps you in every subject in school. Writing helps you in reading, math, science, social studies, and anything that requires thinking.
When you read something that is hard to understand, writing a summary is a great way to help you remember what you have read. Your summary doesn't have to be fancy -- just a few lines that help you recall the main idea and two or three details that support the main idea. Try it out on the passage below. Don't worry if terms like trophic levels, tertiary consumers, and decomposers are new to you. We're not going to read definitions, but we will learn about these words by reading about them.
Read the material in the text and then answer the questions. You will be surprised how much you understand even though it concerns a difficult subject with unusual words:
In the natural world, plants and animals need each other to survive. The food web helps us understand how plants and animals survive. There are different layers in the food web, and these are known as trophic levels. On each trophic level, there are different types of plants or animals. Decomposers are very tiny organisms that feed on dead plants and animals and break them down in the soil. This gives the earth the nutrients it needs to help plants grow. These plants are called producers.
Primary consumers are animals that eat plants. For example, grasshoppers and caterpillars are primary consumers. Secondary consumers are animals that eat plant-eating animals. Birds are secondary consumers. Tertiary consumers are animals that eat other meat-eating animals.
1. Describe one example of how plants and animals need each other.
2. What do you think would happen if there were no decomposers?
3. What do secondary consumers need to eat?
1. "Trophic levels" are layers in a ______________________.
2. "Tertiary consumers" are animals that eat other ____________ animals.
3. "Decomposers" feed on ______________________.
1. Some animals eat plants. Also, dead animals are broken down by decomposers and provide nutrients for plants.
2. Plants would receive less nourishment from the soil if there were no decomposers.
3. Secondary consumers eat plant-eating animals.
1. food web
3. dead plants and animals
Wow! You were great! I'll bet that you're the only one in your family who knows what a trophic layer is. Let's think about what just happened. You read a short paragraph with hard words and complicated information. You stopped, thought about it, wrote the answers to some questions, and then double-checked your understanding. In a very short time, you learned a lot of new information. Now think about what might have happened if you had tried to read ten pages of this kind of information. How would you feel? Probably you would be discouraged and maybe even a little angry. You might even ask, "How does the teacher expect me to know all this stuff?"
Think about what might have happened if we had started this chapter with the words, warning: TROPHIC LAYERS AND TERTIARY CONSUMERS AHEAD -- ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK! Many readers -- maybe even you -- would have said, "This book isn't for me. I don't know about those things, and I'm not sure that I want to know about them." In school, we don't always get to choose what we read. When we write about what we read, we understand it better. Even if your teacher doesn't ask you to write a summary of what you read, it's a great idea. This is especially important if the things you are reading are difficult or unusual. You don't need a checklist or a set of questions. Just make a few notes about the main idea and supporting details, list the words that are new, and write what you think those words mean.
One of the most important keys to good writing is good reading. One of the keys to good reading is the ability to write a summary about what you have read. It's a cycle -- similar to the cycle in nature we just read about -- in which reading and writing work together. You must be a good reader to be a good writer, and you need to be a good writer to be a better reader.
Now, let's go back to your list of "Things I Do Very Well" on page 2. You are ready to add these words:
I can read and understand complicated words.
I can summarize complicated ideas.
I can understand information that is brand-new and that I had never learned before.
Copyright © 2002 by Douglas Reeves, Ph.D.