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By Tatum Travers • July 10, 2018

The Future of Writing is at CICS Bucktown

Fourth and fifth grade teachers at CICS Bucktown in Chicago use Frontier’s projects to support reluctant writers and challenge students who are writing and reading above grade level. As the 2017-2018 school year came to a close, teachers Jenna Kaspar and Kimberly Hetzler gave their students the opportunity to show off their strongest work by presenting a Frontier project on the topic of their choosing to their classmates and the team at eSpark Learning. Over the course of the day, CICS classrooms set an inspiring vision for the future of writing:

#1: The future of writing is online

Over 2 million blog posts are published each day and two-thirds of today’s jobs require strong online writing skills. If they’re to adequately prepare students for the writing they’ll encounter outside of the classroom, schools must rethink writing workshop models to include online research, collaborative peer feedback, and hands-on word processing.

At CICS Bucktown, students embedded memes, infographics, videos, and references to online articles throughout their final Frontier projects. Before sharing their polished final work with the team from eSpark Learning, students used Frontier’s digital supports to provide anonymous, constructive feedback on each other’s work.

In this Frontier project, a student responds to the question How does junk food impact your health?", using videos, memes, and infographics to support her thinking.

#2: Student choice is the secret to effective writing instruction

Shortly before the team from eSpark Learning visited her classroom, Ms. Kaspar shared how she’s been using Frontier and student choice to change how her classroom thinks about writing:

“I’ve seen students that totally hated writing get into it using Frontier because there are so many options to choose from and they’re able to create something on their own. They’re able to go on and choose a topic that interest them. They’re running the gamut on topics and learning about everything from Taylor Swift to Greek gods and goddesses. Frontier is academically focused, but students don’t realize there are Common Core standards stuck behind each project. They’re not just researching their favorite celebrity or sport. They’re really getting academic instruction, but it’s given to them in a student-centered way.”

“[Students] are not just researching their favorite celebrity or sport. They’re really getting academic instruction, but it’s given to them in a student-centered way.”

#3: Writing facilitates creative and critical thinking

Studies show that only 4% of middle school assignments ask students to engage in higher order thinking. Teachers at CICS classrooms are bucking this statistic by using Frontier throughout their ELA blocks, giving students the opportunity to write and read about complex topics that are relevant to their community an experiences.

Lessons that ask students to think critically and creatively are time consuming for teachers to plan, but Frontier has allowed CICS teachers to nurture these skills even when they’re short on time. “Frontier provides my higher academic students, and even my lower academic students, with some individualized instruction that’s pretty much done for me. I’m not necessarily having to sit and create specific lessons for them,” say Ms. Kaspar.

As they presented their final Frontier projects to the team at eSpark Learning, students shared pieces of writing that exceeded expectations for 4th and 5th grade writing by providing complex nuanced, creative responses to questions such and How can kids make a difference in the world? and What if Christopher Columbus had Google Earth? Researchers have found that this type of higher order thinking leads to increased student autonomy, well being, and analysis skills.

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