Imagine having your very own editor to give you tips and help revise your writing not once but twice before you turn in an important essay. Thanks to LPIE funding, many freshmen and junior history students at Acalanes High School have just that.
The high school’s Writing for Mastery program provides four tutors who meet individually with 9th grade World History and 11th grade American History students two times during a semester to help them edit one of their writing assignments. This school year, LPIE funded $30,000 for Writing for Mastery.
Tutor Lore Musser, who heads the program, and tutors Christina Engelbrecht, Rosemary Kirbach and Carolyn Martin each provide two 15-minute sessions per student to give them feedback and edits on their papers. Each history teacher gives their class a written assignment, and the Writing for Mastery tutors go over it with the students twice before they write their final draft.
In a small room at the Acalanes High School library, tutor Christina Engelbrecht sat with junior Natalie Starczewsky as the two looked over the latest edits to the student’s American History paper.
Starczewsky’s assignment was an opinion paper on whether the Kennedy administration was culpable for the coup that overthrew the Diem regime in South Vietnam in 1963. Using evidence from historical documents, each student in Starczewsky’s class had to make his or her case in an 800-word essay.
Tutor Christina Engelbrecht works with Acalanes junior Natalie Starczewsky.
Engelbrecht gave the student constructive feedback, explaining how she could strengthen her argument in certain sections, and correcting grammar in others. This session marked Starczewsky’s second round of edits before she would write her final draft to hand in to her teacher.
“I think you’re in good shape, I really do,” Engelbrecht assured her.
Other students came in every 15 minutes or so, with Engelbrecht explaining her suggestions and giving advice on what they needed to do to make their arguments and their writing stronger.
Lead tutor Lore Musser says the Writing for Mastery program has been beneficial to students in an era where the written word is taking a backseat to technology.
“Writing is going to be important as they (students) go to grad school and on to careers,” says Musser. "Writing is a process. Each time you revisit it, you can refine different aspects of the paper."
Musser says the main focus of the tutoring has been to help students present their evidence and analysis clearly and logically so that it supports their thesis, and also to formalize their writing style using more sophisticated vocabulary.
Acalanes Social Studies teacher Joe Schottland says he is a big fan of Writing for Mastery as it allows his students time to step back and critically evaluate their writing.
“While some students squawk about having to write an essay several times, in the end the final product is much better and demonstrates the value of refinement of writing,” he says.
Junior Elle Hoaru worked with Engelbrecht on her second round of revisions to her paper and said she has found the feedback valuable as she prepares to do her final draft.
“I think it’s really helpful to get a different perspective,” says Hoaru.