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2009 Aspiring New Jersey Schools To Watch®

Lakeside Middle School
316 Lakeside Avenue
Pompton Lakes, NJ 07442
Dr. Paul Amoroso

Language Arts Literacy Program

Teachers in successful language arts literacy programs are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and dedicated to help all students obtain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. They collaborate, articulate data, and maintain a systematic learning program that builds on skill development.  At Lakeside Middle School, the Language Arts Literacy department has been emulating these strengths and the end-result is high student achievement and a collegial atmosphere.

The LAL teachers believe that students gain mastery of the writing and reading mode through the revision process and by participating in reader and writer workshops.  They encourage other language arts literacy teachers and special education teachers to participate in these workshops with students, inviting teachers to the class to help with this process. Whether it is the classroom or visiting teacher, each fosters the understanding that constructive feedback is imperative for student growth in writing and reading. 

Rather than teach to the test, the LAL teachers create lessons to prepare students to become strong writers and readers regardless of the mode.  Students participate in weekly writing and reading activities focusing on various modes including, but not limited to persuasive, narrative, expository, explanatory, compare/contrast, analysis, etc. Furthermore, the LAL department meets and plans with the content area teachers to design and implement lessons for reinforcement in the modes that lend themselves to the content.  For example, the science and social studies teachers work on modes including persuasive and cause/effect, using the same graphic organizers or processes as used in the LAL classrooms.

Each student maintains a journal during all aspects of both workshops.  Students may respond to a quote or reading passage through analysis and share ideas with the class. In other activities, students may conduct research on a self-selected topic and prepare some form of media to share it.  Finally, students use the journal to record their rough copy of an essay and to share it with the teacher during a writing conference.  Regardless of the product, the journal holds the students’ ideas, ready for the next assignment. 
Rather than teach concepts in isolation, the LAL department designs lessons to include targets of study based on portfolio assessment.  Targets of study emerge during careful analysis of student portfolios.  The literacy specialist in the LAL department collects and analyzes all student portfolios each grading cycle and shares findings with the building principal, director of curriculum and testing, and grade-level teachers.  Using standardized test scores and scores in LAL the previous year, the specialist compares this data with the rubric scores on the first writing piece.  The teachers share trends during student improvement and/or curriculum meetings and decide on an intervention.  For example, if several students lack the understanding of paragraph organization, the literacy specialist suggests a mini-lesson in this area.  If further one-on-one interventions are needed, the student attends a writing lab to work on areas of concern.  This evaluation process occurs every grading cycle.   
From the processes outlined above, the curriculum evolves and remains a living document.  Teachers, for example, have the opportunity to revise it to enhance a cross-curricular unit or to improve a lesson.  Through this constant reflection and collaboration among staff members, the LAL department is able to prepare students to use the writing and reading processes effectively to revise and evaluate their work.  In this way, the students come to realize that their learning process is never truly finished, but always a work in progress.

Rochelle Hendricks, Assistant Commissioner
Division of District and School Improvement, NJ Department of Education, P.O. Box 500, Trenton, NJ 08625