[Editor’s note: 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 third of a 3-part series. For the first and second parts, click here and here. (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 students writing from Shutterstock.

In the past, DCPS teachers were left to their own devices to figure out how to teach writing and critical thinking. But last year our high-poverty school helped pilot a comprehensive approach to those all-important skills with our 6th-to-8th graders. It produced dramatic results.

Daniel, a student we’ve taught at Truesdell Education Campus for the past two years, is a good example. In the past he refused to write most of the time, and when he did, his thoughts were incomprehensible.

English is Daniel’s second language, and he receives special education support. He scored in the basic category on his 7th-grade reading exam and below basic on his writing assessment. He started his 8th-grade year reading at a 4th-grade level.

Like many students, Daniel (a pseudonym) had slipped, and at times screamed and kicked, his way through the system with major and persistent language deficiencies. Different teachers had tried different instructional methods, with varying results.

But the Hochman program provided Daniel’s teachers a common set of tools and language to evaluate his progress on a daily basis and then modify their instruction to meet his needs.

Daniel and his classmates soon had opportunities to practice good thinking and writing in each of their classes. For example, Daniel might outline and draft an argumentative essay on extending the school day in English class. In science class, he might revise a poorly written paragraph about frog dissection by combining short, choppy sentences and adding in transition words.

Next, in social studies, Daniel would write complex sentences using subordinating conjunctions. Finally, in his reading intervention, Daniel would write a single-sentence summary of a passage using a Hochman strategy designed to help students locate and rephrase the main ideas of a text. In each class, practice was constant.

By June, Daniel was independently writing well-structured two and three paragraph essays. As impressively, he made over two and a half years of growth in reading.

While Daniel still faces significant challenges, he no longer suffers from the lack of foundational language skills that once crippled him. Most important, he possesses the confidence and the motivation to build the skills he’ll need to attend college.

What great teachers have always done

The gains at Truesdell have been impressive, but they shouldn’t be surprising. The Hochman Method is consistent with what great teachers have always done and what new teachers seek to emulate.

The program gives teachers the tools they need to guide their students through everything from constructing simple sentences to expressing sophisticated concepts. Once students become comfortable with the mechanics of writing, they feel free to take risks and experiment with their ideas and creativity.

But for the Hochman Method to work, schools need to implement it consistently across a range of classes. The students who showed the greatest gains from the program — in reading, writing, and thinking — were the ones who got the most opportunities to practice these skills in a variety of subjects.

So Hochman requires real, not token, collaboration among and between grade levels and content areas. That’s a formidable challenge.

At Truesdell, we have embraced that challenge, and we’re grateful that DCPS is an early adopter of the Hochman Method. Next year, we plan to expand our implementation to include pre-K through 5th grade while continuing to use the method with our 6th-to-8th grade classes.

Lauren Castillo is in her second year as an instructional coach at Truesdell Education Campus. She began her education career in DC Public Schools in 2007 as a Teach For America corps member and has since served in many capacities as a teacher-leader at her school. Lauren is an alumnus of Emory & Henry College and received a master’s degree in education from George Mason University.

Adam Zimmerman teaches 8th grade English at Truesdell Education Campus. In addition to teaching, Adam serves as a Teaching Policy Fellow through Teach Plus and a Teacher Leadership Innovation Fellow through DCPS. Adam earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Colgate University and his master’s degree in social policy from the University of Oxford.