Nationally-recognized writing consultant Erik Cork on Wednesday electrified nearly 200 Varnett fourth graders during a fast-paced workshop designed to empower students to systematically organize thoughts and communicate them effectively on paper.
The “Rap, Rhythm & Rhyme: Rebuilding the Writing Foundation” presentation featured music, visuals, energy, high-level interaction and group writing exercises in the East Campus auditorium packed with students from all three campuses.
“Technology changes all the time,” Mr. Cork said. “Let me tell you what doesn’t change: good writing.”
The workshop came as students prepare for the crucial STAAR tests next month that could decide whether they advance to the next grade in the 2015-16 school year. The writing tests for 4th graders are set for March 30-31.
Mr. Cork emphasized the “I Feel 8” parts of speech: noun, pronoun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, conjunction and interjection and challenged students to identify what each word was in a sentence. He also cautioned students about “running on and on and on” with their sentences and told them to “be straight to the point.”
Descriptive writing paints pictures with words, narrative writing tells a story and expository writing is the art of organizing information and making written presentations that need no explanation or clarification.
Mr. Cork also engaged the teachers and staff. To loosen up the atmosphere he asked the staff to get on stage and dance as students hooped and hollered with delight. The activity continued as Ms. Dugar, the district’s chief academic officer, and teachers worked the room in monitoring and helping students with their writing exercises in books that Mr. Cork provided.
The rules of writing
Using music, humor, pictures and illustrations, Mr. Cork engaged the students in the “7 Strong Writing Mechanics,”: getting started (“let it flow”), confidence, usage (neat handwriting, correct spelling, punctuation), verbal agreements (proper talk), complete sentences, structure and revision.
“Never fall in love with your first draft,” Mr. Cork said.
In addition to exploring writing techniques, the books the students used contained information on how to use more literary terms, with a list of definitions.
The students were fully engaged during the presentation.
“It’s a good way to help people learn,” said Raia Fletcher, a 4th grader at Southwest who said she wants to be a lawyer. “He’s saying it in a fun way but you’re still learning.”
Student Haley Roberts from Northeast said: “He’s fun, he’s funny and he has good notes about writing. He tells us the same things that our teachers tell us.”
Ms. Voltz, the East Campus director, added: “When you can get the kids in the back of the room to be involved, you’re a good presenter.”
According to his bio, Mr. Cork has conducted writing workshops for more than 250,000 elementary and secondary students, as well as for professional educators. He has published interviews with Susan Taylor, former editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine, and Oprah Winfrey. He is a protégé of prolific Houston playwright Thomas Meloncon.