School Design for Success


History of Bellevue International School

Bellevue International School was the sole creation of six visionary teachers, and has consistently ranked in the top tier of schools nationwide...Read more

History of Kirkland International Community School (ICS)

Kirkland International Community School had no computers the first year, and our students were housed in portables with little shelter from the rain...Yet, by the second year we achieved the highest writing scores on statewide exams...Read more

Humanities Curriculum at Bellevue International School and Kirkland ICS

Quarterly grading periods, winter breaks and summer recesses were mere interruptions in one continuous curriculum...Read more

How Social Promotion Gives a "Pass" to Schools that Fail

Ask any teacher whether social promotion "works", and you will receive a clear answer: It doesn't...Read more

First Test Scores from Bellevue International School and Kirkland International School

These scores were achieved by schools that were untried, built on promises, and which had yet to acquire a reputation for rigor and success...Read more

Creating A Powerful Teaching Culture

If the teaching culture is not transformed, then "school renewal" will be an empty promise...Read more

Making it Better vs. Making it New

"Better" and "different" may sometimes be confused as charter schools describe their mission...Read more

How Marysville Arts & Technology H.S. Began

"We don't have tennis courts. We don't have a gym. We don't have a lot of things," Principal Bruce Saari said. "We do have a small school culture."Read more

This writing curriculum is a complete year long course--not a set of workbook activities--that will transform your student's ability to think complex thoughts and put them into powerful, clear, evocative sentences. Easily teachable, step-by-step activities create the student language breakthroughs you have been searching for. Daily success builds student confidence, and confidence opens the way to enthusiastic learning. Are you searching for a way to dramatically improve the quality of your students' writing? Do you want them to acquire higher level language skills, make them second nature, and apply them consistently in all their writing? If so, I welcome you to join me on this amazing learning adventure. This curriculum will guide you every step of the way, and includes unlimited email support and coaching (provided by me) for one full year. You will rely upon these successful sentence construction teaching methods throughout the rest of your career. Because they work for your students. They really do.

--Bruce Saari

Bruce, The proof of any teacher's effectiveness is in the performance of his students, and you and I both know that the work your kids have produced is superb. Their observation skills, their ability to use language to vividly describe their observations, and their rapidly increasing understanding of syntax and sentence structure are among the most impressive I've ever seen as an English teacher, principal, or superintendent in any school at any grade level or program.

The fact that you have produced this level of accomplishment with such young kids is incredible.

--Bellevue Supt. Mike Riley

Dramatically Improving Middle School Writing Skills

There are no shortcuts to writing achievement breakthroughs within your classrooms.

How do we raise student writing achievement levels? How do we help students break through the barriers imposed by their limited entry-level language skills? How do we develop student enthusiasm for learning to write with clarity, precision and expressive power?

Daily oral language mini-lessons will not do it. Journal writing will not do it. Exploring writing genres, or teaching the five part essay will not do it. Neither will writing across the curriculum fulfill this expectation.

Assigning more writing is not the same as teaching students to become better writers. The study of rubrics or group-editing tasks will not teach students how to consistently write more varied and more precise sentences.

What students need is an in-depth, systematic, single-focus writing curriculum that develops sentence fluency and descriptive power at the same time that it creates enthusiasm for word choice and clarity of expression.

Students need a sequence of writing activities that meets them where they are...and then lifts them upward to higher word choice and sentence construction skills.

These breakthroughs can best be achieved by a writing program that is lively, engaging, and that combines systematic, intensive skill development with short, high interest assignments that are designed for successful closure and quick turnaround. A program where students put in the effort, master a technique, and then instantly see their sentence construction skills grow.

This Writing Achievement curriculum is the product of over thirty years of teaching reading, writing and thinking at some of America's highest performing public schools. My constant goal: building student enthusiasm for mastering sentence structure, punctuation, voice & fluency. Standardized test score results for my earliest student writers are available here.

This is what high energy middle school English classrooms should be about:

Creating enthusiasm for exploring the beauty and precision of language...

Creating student "ah-ha!" moments as they master increasingly complex and effective sentence patterns...

Equipping students with the skills they need to generate richer, more varied sentences...

...And most important: Providing experiences where students can see their writing skills grow on a daily basis.

Why shouldn't a middle school writing class be the most exciting class in the entire school?

Sentences by Students Following this Curriculum...Read/Close

Imagine a selection of sentences written by your 7th-12th graders as part of a short (two paragraph) creative writing assignment entitled "Still Life: An Old Work Shoe":

"...A slothful bootlace curls, loops and winds dronishly through the rusty, metal holes, creating a clustered, knotted look...

"...Its worn, brass eyelets rusting, the dreary shoe tugs toothlessly at a besmirched, spurious lace..."

"...Descending and submerging, a criss-cross patterned sole sinks into the damp, boggy soil..."

"...A seam, ravelling and slipping, arches around the worn and dusty surface...a mucky, sweat-blemished shoe tongue cowers between two mountains of uplifting leather..."

"...A silver, dulled hook, its metal oxidizing, holds out its ends to clasp on to ancient, threadbare laces..."

These sentences were crafted by my own students (grades 7-12) who were half-way through this 9-36 week curriculum that developed voice and fluency at the same time that it developed sentence construction skills.

Sentences like these are emblematic of a dramatically heightened student awareness of the descriptive power of language. And these skills can be taught ALL your middle school students: How to write a variety of introductory participial phrases, how to construct introductory adverbial clauses, how to create simple, compound and compound-complex sentences, how to use the thesaurus effectively, how to creatively deploy and transform parts of speech to enhance detail and precision, and how to punctuate correctly as sentences become more interesting and informative.

Regardless of background or preparation, middle school teachers now have the opportunity to guide students beyond their limited entry-level language skills. I invite all teachers of writing--whether novices or experts--to join me on this instructional journey as you transform your own skills as a teacher of writing.

Impact for Students and Teachers...Read/Close

Weak sentence construction skills can impose limits on the depth and quality of student thinking. With this curriculum, classrooms become learning laboratories where teachers and students explore, acquire new knowledge, practice writing techniques, and share results together.

The curriculum is not a grammar textbook with reproducible lessons confined to dittoes--we have already tried to use those in our classrooms, with little success.

Instead, it is a step by step teaching manual that arranges activities in a mastery learning sequence, resolves sentence construction mysteries with numerous examples, and that alerts teachers to important "look for's" or difficulties that their students may encounter at any step along the way.

When it comes to introductory participial phrases, for example, I provide a clear explanation for teachers as to how they are constructed, and clear models how they can be varied and transformed. Teachers may copy and use my examples as they instruct their students, or following my lead, they may create their own examples that strongly connect to the interests or backgrounds of each student.

Skills are sequenced into specific activities that can easily be mastered by students before they move to next steps. Early on our tasks are extremely brief--no more than a sentence or two--so that success at achieving each goal can be understood by all, quickly measured, and enjoyed.

Oral sharing of student work is built into the curriculum by design. Such sharing develops confidence, pride in new learning, and jump starts student conversation about what quality writing looks like.

I provide one year of unlimited email support in order to guarantee teacher success. Questions about the curriculum, about instructional strategies, about next steps--all will be answered personally within 24 hours or less. Your success as a teacher is important to me.

This curriculum addresses and challenges the full spectrum of student abilities--from those below grade level to those in Honors or Advanced Placement courses.

Middle School Writing Program Overview...Read/Close

Q: How do middle school students learn?

A: Middle school students learn by receiving clear instructions about what is expected, clear examples of what is expected, and numerous in-class opportunities to practice and to share their mastery of learning targets.

Q: How do middle school students internalize this learning?

A: Repetition and reinforcement are the keys: Clear tactics for sentence construction are presented, and students are obligated to reproduce and share these during class in short, targeted, descriptive writing assignments.

Q:Why does the curriculum emphasize descriptive writing activities?

Writing about objects themselves, rather than ideas, requires us to see a thing clearly. This focusing generates numerous word choice possibilities and opens up the wonder and power of the language that is available to us--and requires us to use it. The paragraphing and sentence construction skills that students master in this curriculum are easily transferable to the full range of middle school writing assignments in other classes. This descriptive writing approach is deliberate, and it has proven to be successful time and time again. (see some of my student test scores here).

Q: Is this another grammar program? I already have a room full of grammar texts.

A: We all do. And we have all tried to use them, or their workbook derivatives at one time or another in order to teach writing skills. The Middle School Writing Program has a strong grammatical and sentence construction emphasis, absolutely.

But here the similarity ends. The Achievement Middle School Writing Curriculum is a real-world method; a way of teaching, a way of practicing, a way of engaging students, and a way of sequencing specific learning activities so that each builds upon what has come before as students journey toward mastery.

Q: Can I teach my students these effective writing skills in fewer than 9 weeks? I am feeling pressure from my Principal to create results--and soon!

A: The curriculum is set up to provide a systematic, cumulative learning sequence that leads resolutely to student writing mastery. My recommendation for first time users is to devote a minimum of thirty minutes per day to the curriculum, and to set a 12-18 week time frame for completion. Once a teacher has taught the full curriculum, he/she may choose, in future years, to implement selected lessons in order to achieve dramatic, short-term writing results.

Q: Does this curriculum require any specialized grammatical knowledge on the part of the teacher?

A: The Middle School Writing Curriculum is designed to coach both students AND teachers toward writing skill development. A teacher who knows little about sentence structure can teach this program very effectively by staying several activities ahead of each day's lesson.

Q: What does "one year email support" mean for me as a teacher?

A:Purchasers of this program have one year unlimited email support, and contact me directly. I will respond to any and all of your questions about the curriculum, about sentence structure, about grammar, and about instructional strategies within 24 hours of receipt of your query. Brainstorms and troubleshooting questions are very welcome.The achievements of your students--and your success in teaching them--are important to me.

The Middle School Writing Curriculum is Not a Traditional Approach...Read/Close

Emphasis on in-class laboratory learning

Emphasis on interaction, frequent closure, frequent feedback/formative assessment

De-emphasis on daily grading and collection of papers, though each teacher may collect and grade as many assignments as she thinks necessary for recording student progress. Most student work is done in class and students know instantly how well they have met the goals

Emphasis on application of new learning NOW

Emphasis on starting with simple concepts and moving to highly challenging complexity

Emphasis on short sentence and multiple sentence assignments that target skills and provide quick turnaround and classroom critique

Emphasis on “getting it," “demonstrating it” and “using it”

Emphasis on observation & discovery

Opportunities for group collaboration, but always an emphasis on individual products and accountability

Required classroom materials: One good quality thesaurus for each student. One dictionary per two students.

Sample Mastery Targets for Voice, Fluency and Precision

Concrete nouns applied

Abstract nouns applied

Verbs and verbals applied

Prepositional phrases & agreement issues

Powerful word cache development

Effective thesaurus use

Troubleshooting six forms of redundancy

Pathetic fallacy for voice

Deploying parts of speech for voice and precision

Powerful introductory & non-essential participial phrases—applied

Powerful appositives applied

Verb tense mastery—applied

Introductory adverb clauses applied for richness & complexity

Non essential subordinate clauses applied

Sentence marking activities: keep it simple

Comma rules applied based on word function and sentence structure

Simple, compound & complex sentences—applied and constructed

Teacher Comments...Read/Close

Teacher Comments...

"Dear Bruce, Writing to let you know that your program has been a tremendous success at our school. All of our students are in Writing Achievement 3 hours per week (1 hour per session) and all look forward to the class. The best part is that outside of class we hear the kids use vocabulary they have never used before and many of our students can be found looking through the Thesaurus on a regular basis. What is so wonderful about your program is that all the students benefit, no matter their grammar level. Thanks again for developing a great product."

"What I liked about this curriculum was it created a systematic, organized approach to writing. I liked how the writing was broken down into specific building blocks that we could practice together."

"We are only nine weeks into your curriculum and I have been told that my students are debating sentence structure during lunch time. They are very possessive of their new found knowledge, and these skills have created a fire for learning in my classroom. Thank you."

"...Yes, this curriculum is student-centered; and yes, it is an innovative application of foundational language skills that makes learning fun for both the student and the teacher. It treats the parts of speech as an artistic medium - the "primary colors" if you will, but does so without the "paint-by-numbers" sensibility so common to most writing curriculum. Rather, it guides each student into the development of his or her own voice. More than that, this curriculum creates a circumstance in the classroom that forces teachers to be at their absolute best."

"I would definitely recommend it to another teacher!!! I believe it incorporates the essential elements for teaching writing which are giving the students the framework for evaluating their own work, and then it is designed to make them practice what they learn. I especially like how it is designed to make them think about writing in a whole new way. 'Evocative' is our new mantra."

"I must say, what you've created really is quite brilliant! For me, it has demystified the process of teaching writing in a way I didn't know was possible, even if one of my primary tasks now becomes achieving my own higher degree of language structure knowledge--something your curriculum also provides for."

"I'm keeping my demos as simple as possible. For 7th grade, I'm doing the first part of the noun word cache activity (although, I have no idea if these kids even have their own thesauruses, let alone know how to use them). For 8th grade, I'm following your suggestion and doing the curving line activity."

"Thank you for showing me how to become a better teacher of writing. Before I found your curriculum I was unable to explain how students could improve their phrasing and sentence structure, except to say that it didn't sound quite right. Your curriculum has given me the tools to know how to break sentences down, how to put them back together in new ways, and how to teach students to do the same thing."

"At the very beginning of the school year I took one day and had the students write two pages about anything they wanted. I saved these papers and pulled them out after completing the 'shoe' assignment. I asked them to evaluate their own paper and come up with at least eight problems...I was VERY EXCITED as I listened to the students evaluate their own work. They were all disgusted and described their writing as 'kindergarten.' Several students noticed right off that they hadn't used a single adjective or adverb! Other students noticed redundancy in their word choices and sentence structure...So when I think about specific gains that my students have made, the biggest stride is that they are starting to evaluate their own work and they have a framework for evaluating their work."

"[My students] have a new awareness of what makes an interesting sentence...I think it is a huge benefit that I can say to the students, 'use a past participle in this sentence' and they know what I mean. It is also helpful that I can point out to them, when they have written a failed 'its variation', "where is your subject?" Where is your verb, and they can go back and study the sentence and fix the problem."

"Hi Bruce, thought I would check in again. We just finished up the first comma rules. I really enjoyed teaching these because the kids were able to write some interesting sentences. I had them write three sentences, all on the same topic, one with an IPP, an NEPP, and an 'its variation.' We spent a whole day on these, then I had the students present them orally, then I graded them, handed them back and had the students improve them. I was so pleased to see the improvement through the whole process. I think the students actually enjoyed the process as well because they were 'lighting' up when I talked with them individually about tone, consistency between word choices, adding additional adverbs and adjectives for interest, etc. It was really fun."

"I wish I had time to compose a more detailed email concerning my use of the course. I've followed it carefully and learned a great deal. I'm currently grading their Messy Square Foot assignments and previously, students used a vintage backpack for the old boot assignment. Recently we took a short break and used what we've learned to redo a bulletin board in my room to create a Creative Writing center. Students interviewed each other and created a microbiography, a single sentence which followed all the "rules" we've learned so far, contained an Items in a Series, an IPP or NEPP, an appositive and revealed the most salient characteristics of the classmate they interviewed. Each student then brought in a picture of themselves "in action" and we read our microbiographies aloud in class and then mounted them on nice card stock and posted them on the creative writing bulletin board with their pictures. It's quite nice. I'll have to send you an example or two and a picture of the finished bulletin board."

9-36 WEEK MIDDLE SCHOOL WRITING CURRICULUM: Complete teacher guide to a seamless series of learning activities that develop proficiency in sentence construction and language use.