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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

UNCP reaches out to help teacher teach writing

The School of Education at UNC Pembroke helped to slay one of the most feared dragons of American education.

“You could feel the panic in the room,” said Dr. Olivia Oxendine, a 30-year veteran educator and writing instruction expert.

In two daylong seminars for educators from across the region, Drs. Valjeaner Ford, Irene Aiken and Oxendine, took the fear out of the North Carolina End of Grade (EOG) writing test.

UNCP education professors, Dr. Olivia Oxendine, Dr. Irene Aiken and Dr. Valjeaner Ford

UNCP education professors, Dr. Olivia Oxendine, Dr. Irene Aiken and Dr. Valjeaner Ford

“It may be that many teachers are not comfortable with their own writing skills,” Dr. Oxendine said. “For sure, they don’t have adequate training in this area.”

The professors broke down the skills necessary to successfully teach narrative writing to elementary school students. They were on the road recently to Richmond Community College with 50 2nd – 4th grade teachers from Richmond, Montgomery, Anson and Scotland counties.

Rule one is critical, they told the teachers. “You will have to do this a lot,” Dr. Oxendine said. “How many days? One hundred and eighty.”

Rule two is also critical. “Here is the thing you need to do,” Dr. Ford said. “Read, read, read.”

Rule three is likewise important. “The world and writing have changed,” Dr. Aiken said. “Because of the Internet, children are writing more then ever, but it’s a different kind of writing that is not as formal.”

Once the introductory lessons were relayed, the other steps were rolled out to an attentive audience. Teachers offered some of their own writing tips on visualization and descriptive writing.

“We were reading ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ and I had my students visualize the barn and the characters,” said Tracy Preslar of Ansonville Elementary School.

“As we read, we used sticky notes for sentences with glittering detail or exciting adjectives or good action verbs,” said Joy Swinnie of Washington Street Elementary School in Richmond County.

Dr. Ford suggested a bulletin board to emphasize the value of proofreading. The primary lesson seemed to be that mastering difficult subject material like writing requires focus and effort.

“You can’t assume they will ‘catch on,’” Dr. Ford said. “We have to teach them, work them through it.”

Shirley Smith of Peachland-Polkton Elementary School in Anson County said the seminar is “beneficial.”

“I’m glad I attended today,” Smith said. “Writing is one of the most challenging things we teach.”

“Getting students to develop a story around a simple plot, and then fill in details around the central idea is not easy,” she said. “I have been teaching for 13 years and I have a daughter in the 4th grade, so I’m seeing it from both sides.”

An earlier seminar at UNCP’s Regional Center hosted teachers from Cumberland, Robeson, Hoke, Bladen and Columbus counties.

For more information, please contact the School of Education at 910.521.6221 or email

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