ADAMS -- Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School has partnered with a Boston-based education startup called Write the World LLC, as well as graduate students from Harvard University, to pilot a new high school student writing model.
The Write the World concept blends essay writing with an online review process designed to give students expert feedback which, in turn, can help students improve their work. Write the World programs are presented as competitions to spark interest and student participation.
"Our goal is to improve writing and aid learning," said Francesca Grossman, Write the World's chief of educational strategy.
The partnership came about by chance, when the organization's director of curriculum Billie Fitzpatrick, mentioned she knew of BART.
"We thought it was a great idea because this was a pilot and we wanted to do it small, with one school so we could really focus on building relationships with teachers and students to get feedback," Grossman said.
All of BART's juniors and some seniors were involved in the pilot through Anna Bean's English language arts classes and the modern world history classes of Deborah Calderara, about 34 students.
Write the World then worked with the teachers to develop research-driven essay writing prompts based on what the students were studying this spring: Imperialism; Adam Hochschild's "King Leopold's Ghost"; Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"; George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" and Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games.
One persuasive essay prompt, for example, said: "Using your reading or viewing of ‘The Hunger Games,' state your claim to the question, ‘How can we -- humans in North Berkshire County, Massachusetts -- avoid the path to dystopian Panem?' "
Juniors Jake Bristol of Clarksburg and Joe King of Williamstown had both praise and constructive criticism for Write the World's program. Both students chose to respond to a prompts about "King Leopold's Ghost" and Belgium's reign over Congo.
"You get feedback from excellent, excellent readers," said Bristol, who authored the overall winning essay.
"It gave us ideas of how to do more with our work. The idea is getting students more actively involved with the way they write," said King.
Over a period of two weeks, students were asked to respond to two different prompts. Once students submitted their first drafts, a team of 10 expert reviewers from the Harvard Graduate School of Education provided online feedback.
"The BART students took the feedback and ran with it, developing their essays to be much stronger in the second draft than in the first," Grossman said.
King, Bristol and teacher Anna Bean said the most frustrating part of the experience was dealing with various glitches in the technology and online platform; something Write the World and BART are both working on.
Bristol and King said they each received one round of feedback but would have been eager to have an extended competition period in order to receive more.
This summer, juniors will continue to serve as a focus group for Write the World through online surveys and forums.
Bean said from an educator's perspective, she appreciated the opportunity for students to be involved in the development of a program like Write the World, while simultaneously being involved in academic activity, technology and communicating with expert readers.
The program was offered free of charge, something Bean hopes remains consistent. She said she hopes both BART and Write the World can work together to improve the program overall.
"They have more resources than I do, mainly people, to be able to help students with their work," said Bean.
She said the Harvard graduate students can also benefit from working with high school students. "It's a new experience for the Write the World readers in working with student writers at various levels and abilities."
This summer, Write the World is partnering with Zoo New England to sponsor an open writing competition for high school students.
On the Web ...
To learn more email Francesca Grossman at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website Writetheworld.com will be updated later this summer to provide more information about new competitions and how to get involved.
Read Jake Bristol's winning essay at berkshireeagle.com.