During the last school year, 4 DCPS schools piloted a program that engages students in analytical writing across the curriculum. DCPS was the first school district in the nation to adopt the program on a trial basis, and it plans to expand the pilot to an additional 6 to 8 schools this fall.

The program, developed by Dr. Judith C. Hochman, starts with exercises at the sentence level and gradually leads students through learning to outline what they’ll write and then composing paragraphs and essays. One high school in New York City has had great success with the Hochman Method.

We asked some of the DCPS educators who used the program last year to write about their experiences. This is the first of a 3-part series. (Disclosure: The editor of Greater Greater Education, Natalie Wexler, is a board member of The Writing Revolution, an organization that brings the Hochman Method into underserved schools.)

Photo of student writing from Shutterstock.

When I first heard about the Hochman Method, I was skeptical. But in the 8 years I’ve taught writing to high school students, I’ve never seen a program work as well as this one.

As an 11th-grade English teacher in a high-poverty urban school, I’m constantly engaged in a balancing act. The vast majority of my students are reading and writing below grade level, but every day I’m expected to teach grade-level lessons and not focus too much on remediation.

I understand the reason for that. Our students would get farther and farther behind if we worked only on their gaps in knowledge. But it’s hard to teach students to write an essay when they struggle to write strong sentences.

When I was first introduced to the Hochman Method last August, I sighed. It sounded as though Dr. Hochman wanted us to hold off on having students write essays until they had first mastered more fundamental skills.

I was used to juggling sentence development and essay writing concurrently in order to meet the demands of the 11th-grade curriculum, which is aligned to the rigorous Common Core standards. No essays until March? I thought of the massive writing standards I had to cover and wondered how I’d be able to merge them with the Hochman Method.

Before and after samples

What sold me on forging the merger were the student work samples that Dr. Hochman shared from several schools, including New Dorp High School on Staten Island. The “before” samples looked just like my students’ work, but the “after” samples could have come from a top-tier school.

Impressed and intrigued, I started chatting with my fellow English, history, and science teachers about how we’d each incorporate the program’s elements into our own curriculums.

At first I didn’t use the Hochman strategies on a daily, or sometimes even a weekly, basis. But each time I did, I could see the impact they were having on the work my students produced. That led me to use the elements of the program more and more frequently as the year progressed.

The result? My students began using more compound and complex sentences, thoughtfully adding appositives to clarify nouns, and outlining their ideas before writing a paragraph.

Sometimes other staff members would comment about the growth they’d noticed in some of my students’ writing, or tell me that a student raised her hand in science class to point out how an author had used an appositive to define a scientific vocabulary word. I savored those small victories.

While the positive feedback was rewarding, it was more important that our students’ writing skills were clearly improving. I became more confident that they would be able to organize their writing for the timed, independent essays many of them would need to compose for Advanced Placement tests, International Baccalaureate exams, and the SAT.

Admittedly, some of my students developed their skills faster than others. But the Hochman Method can meet students where they are and allow them to progress at different rates.

Looking back, I can see that my initial concerns about merging the Hochman Method with the Common Core standards were misplaced. Although my students were not always writing at length, they were writing often. And their focus on crafting quality, higher-level sentences involved grammatical and contextual complexity and keen critical thinking skills.

More than a writing program

The Hochman method is more than a writing program. It’s a way for students to learn how pieces of a puzzle fit together. When writing a complex sentence, for example, students have to determine the relationship between its two clauses and choose a conjunction that matches it. And when they encounter similar complex sentences in their reading, students are better able to understand the author’s intent.

Similarly, when students write a paragraph, they need to understand the relationship between the topic sentence, the supporting details, and the concluding sentence. They also need to learn how to transform the ideas they brainstormed on an outline into a mature, structured unit, using precise transition words and textual evidence.

For you non-English teachers out there: although this process may seem basic, it requires a lot of critical thought on the part of the student.

Next school year I plan to utilize the Hochman Method to its fullest. I’ll also be working with other departments to ensure uniform implementation across the school, since I was fortunate enough to visit New Dorp High School last year and see the impact school-wide implementation has had there.

The Hochman Method is relatively easy to implement, and the growth in students’ skills is obvious. As a teacher, that’s a combination you simply can’t beat.

Liz Braganza is an 11th grade English teacher at Eastern Senior High School and has worked for DCPS for four years.  Previously, she taught in Atlanta and Philadelphia.  Ms. Braganza holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Maryland College Park and a master’s degree in secondary English education from the University of Southern California.