Yazoo County High School and Mississippi Writing/Thinking Institute

Duration of partnership: 3 years
3 volunteers
Impacts 386 students

Persuading high school students to read for a purpose – or for pleasure – is a difficult task.  Getting them to write to a specific audience – or for personal gratification – is excruciatingly painful.  High school English teachers at Yazoo County High School know this as fact – and have partnered with the Mississippi Writing Thinking Institute to attack this daunting challenge.
Over the course of three academic years, the Mississippi Writing Thinking Institute has paired expert instructors of reading and writing with English/Language Arts teachers at Yazoo County High School.  Students have benefited from participating in classroom lessons taught by the experts, while teachers watched and learned.  To deepen the impact, the expert teachers spent time in one-on-one debriefing with each teacher of English to assist them with determining the most effective strategies and texts to utilize in the classroom for challenging all students to improve their skill level in reading.  Additionally, the experts spent time guiding teachers in the development of projects, essay assignments and test questions that require students to think deeply about their reading as they write a thoughtful response.
It is often said that all good writers are good readers, but not all good readers are good writers.  Hence, emphasis in this project was put on showing students how to write to a specific audience for a given purpose.  Progress in this type task led to improved reading comprehension among all students, from the gifted to the struggling learner.  Engagement of students was improved as they began to see their own success, spurring them to read and write on their own. Teachers began to hear students chatting about the books they were reading outside of class assignments.
To go a step beyond, the teachers collaborated with the Mississippi Writing Thinking Institute to deliver a Parent Literacy Night attended by parents with students in grades seven through twelve.  An expert in the field shared a variety of methods for leading adolescents toward reading books that challenge their reading level, thereby leading to improved comprehension.
Further, the expert demonstrated ways that parents can encourage writing through simple positive feedback techniques. A book list was shared with the group that listed high quality, high interest text for parents to steer their young learner toward. Also at this event, parents were told about the various career pathways that their child could choose to follow, the courses in high school necessary to lead into technical or four-year college, what type training businesses in the community are looking for to hire, and how to help their child select coursework wisely and with a goal in mind.
This event led later into a Career Fair event, featuring local business and industry in a setting in which they interacted with students to discuss job opportunities, salaries that accompany those positions, and the education necessary to be considered for those type jobs.  Needless to say, students, parents and community leaders felt this event was a success on many levels and voiced plans to continue this in the future.
The partnership between Yazoo County High School and the Mississippi Writing Thinking Institute has yielded an attitude by teachers and administrators for future collaborative efforts with other community agencies, a continued effort to improve reading and writing skills among the students, and a grasp on the types of processes necessary to impact student learning in a positive way, helping students to reach toward their own potential.
English/Language Arts teachers trained to use a variety of strategies for teaching reading and writing to adolescents; Parent Literacy Night for parents with students in grades 7-12 showed parents how to encourage writing through simple positive feedback techniques; Career Fair involving presentations from local business leaders; assist students in creating higher quality research projects, essays, and written documents; mock writing assessment to build proficiency in writing skills.
Approximately 515 students each year for three years were taught directly by experts in reading and writing; 10 English/Language Arts teachers received direct instruction and coaching from same experts over three-year course of project. Observable improvement of student engagement. Parent Literacy Night provided 55 parent attendees with valuable information to use to effectively improve the reading habits of children.