Student column: Without individualized attention, students won’t reach full potential
Receiving a graded essay is unlike receiving a graded math test; the piece does not lose points based on being “right” or “wrong,” because literature is open to interpretation, and essays demand insight. Therefore, it is harder to grasp why an essay receives a ‘B’ instead of an ‘A’ after one spends countless hours writing it. To address this issue, the English department set up the system of the writing conference — sessions in which the student meets one-on-one with her English teacher to discuss her writing-- in order to help students and their writing grow and flourish.
Writing conferences provide students with the opportunity to explore their strengths and recognize their weaknesses and to discuss how to improve. Teachers often model organizational strategies or syntactical choices. During one of my sophomore year writing conferences, I remember my teacher asking me where I thought my essay’s weaknesses were. I gave her a list. Little did I know that some of the areas that I thought were my weaknesses were actually my areas of strength. However, if I had simply received my paper on Fahrenheit 451 with the grade and comments in the margins, I would never have fully understood what I should have done the same or done differently in my next essay. It is an invaluable experience for a student to be given the opportunity to sit with her English teacher and work out how to edit prepositional phrases or ask questions about which piece of evidence more fully supports an argument. Without individualized attention, from a teacher who is aware of our growth during the year, there is no other way for us to reach our full potential.
But the value of the English writing conference extends beyond the subject of English. In history class, students write essays; in science, students write lab reports; in world language, students write short compositions; even in math, students must justify their responses. English conferences help writers establish the writing foundation they need in order to find success in these disciplines. For example, to write an argumentative essay in history, the writer must implement skills she learns from essay writing in English, and her experiences in English conferences remind her to be conscious of her areas of weakness (e.g. organization, syntax, or something else altogether).
Recently, while in a history writing conference, my teacher explained how difficult it was to schedule conferences on our essays. It took her five weeks to conference with her two AP U.S. History classes. If English teachers lose the allotted free period in their schedules for writing conferences and have to teach five classes, as is projected under Superintendent Dr. Karen Baldwin’s budget proposal, it would take an enormous amount of time for them to conference. Right now, if I want to meet with my AP English teacher, I can email her and receive a conference in the next day or two. While we have a minimum of two English conferences a year, I have met with my English teachers multiple times each year since being a freshman. Learning how to write an essay is a fundamental part of the English curriculum, and to deny students the opportunity to cultivate their writing on an individual basis would fundamentally change students’ academic experience at RHS.
It will be impossible for my writing to evolve and reach its full potential if the English writing conference is abolished as part of the proposed budget plan. As a junior at RHS, my experiences in writing conferences with English teachers have transformed my writing from a rambling, redundant essay into coherent and organized compositions. As students enter the knowledge-based economy, it becomes essential for them to be able to communicate their ideas effectively and coherently. Their writing and its quality become indispensable tools students must be able to implement. I implore the Board of Education not to cut funding for academics, or even for sports, but to look elsewhere in the budget for cuts that do not directly affect student learning. Surely there is spending that can be spared sooner than the crown jewel of our English program can be.
Ridgefield High School, Class of 2019