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You say you want a (writing) revolution? Scranton’s starting it

Scranton school takes aim at student writing skills with unique new program: Step Up to Writing

Gretchen Flatz, left, a science teacher at Scranton School, was a self-proclaimed poor writer until she learned the concepts of Step Up to Writing. She displays some of her students work using Step Up to Writing. (Pioneer Photo by Bryce Martin)
Gretchen Flatz, left, a science teacher at Scranton School, was a self-proclaimed poor writer until she learned the concepts of Step Up to Writing. She displays some of her students work using Step Up to Writing. (Pioneer Photo by Bryce Martin)

By BRYCE MARTIN
Pioneer Editor | bmartin@countrymedia.net

Scranton is burgeoning a revolution.

Karyn Chiapella is helping to lead students and teachers down a path towards successful writing skills with a unique approach to ultimately encompass much of southwest North Dakota.

At its foundation, Step Up to Writing has a simple concept — but as students progress through grade levels, they learn additional components that make their writing and organizational skills more complete and functional.

Chiapella, who has a PhD from Wayne State University in Michigan, is a certified trainer of the approach to teaching writing, which was created in 1999 by Maureen Auman.

An example of the techniques that Scranton Public School is using in its Step Up to Writing program, which started last August.
An example of the techniques that Scranton Public School is using in its Step Up to Writing program, which started last August.

The Scranton students were struggling with writing and one day Chiapella, Special Education/ELL Coordinator at Scranton Public School, overheard a fellow teacher explaining that she was beginning to implement a program called Step Up to Writing. She was floored, having become a trainer of the program.

Last August the school held a two-hour introductory course to the program — and it received a 100 percent buy-in from the teachers and administrators, thus began Scranton’s writing “revolution.”

Step Up to Writing is a multisensory writing process that uses a common object as its foundation: a stoplight. It uses sticky notes, graphic organizers and word lists to help students focus more clearly on what they’re writing and the subject matter. And it can be used with any curriculum.

“Our kids have struggled with going from class to class and every teacher has a different idea about what they’re supposed to do,” Chiapella said, but with Step Up to Writing each teacher uses the same foundation.

Education of the program begins in preschool, where it takes an oral form. “If I can speak, I can write,” she explained. It’s starting early to plant the seeds of the program.

In classrooms around Scranton Public School hang signs dedicated to reminding students of the concepts of Step Up to Writing. (Pioneer Photo by Bryce Martin)
In classrooms around Scranton Public School hang signs dedicated to reminding students of the concepts of Step Up to Writing. (Pioneer Photo by Bryce Martin)

In Step Up to Writing, green means to go, to start talking about the topic. The big ideas, reasons and facts are yellow, to slow down. Those become each body paragraph. More explanation and details on each fact is signified by the color red, to stop and think carefully. The conclusion goes back to green, to remind the readers what the writer is talking about.

“I heard from a parent that said, ‘my student’s a senior and he’s graduating learning about traffic lights?’” she balked.

While some parents might disagree with the philosophy — or not understand it — the students are reacting well.

“When our seniors were taking the placement test for writing, Colbey Steeke said, ‘If I had not known Step Up to Writing, I would not have passed that writing assessment,’” she said.

That’s because it helps the students organize their ideas on paper and avoid the cumbersome task of sorting out large amounts of facts.

The end result creates a solid, well thought out paper, and that’s Chiapella’s goal: to have at least one well-written paper rather than 10 that are inadequate.

Karyn Chiapella, paraprofessional at Scranton Public School and certified trainer of Step Up to Writing, points out some of the Scranton students' work posted in the hallways that use the new writing program. (Pioneer Photo by Bryce Martin)
Karyn Chiapella, Special Education/ELL Coordinator at Scranton Public School and certified trainer of Step Up to Writing, points out some of the Scranton students’ work posted in the hallways that use the new writing program. (Pioneer Photo by Bryce Martin)

Its effects are felt throughout the years of study and has even proven to be retained by adults.

Gretchen Flatz, a science teacher at Scranton School, was a self-described poor writer. That is until she began to utilize the concepts of Step Up to Writing. Now she’s one of the top writers in her Master’s class.

Flatz, along with English teacher Michelle Engraf, have joined Chiapella to become certified trainers of the writing program. Their ultimate goal is to spread use of the program to regional schools across southwest North Dakota.

Several other school districts, such as Hettinger and Mott-Regent, have learned and begun to utilize the concepts that were first seen in Scranton. Bowman is next on the list, as well as Harding and Slope County schools.

The mission is to build a collaborative community where teachers can communicate with one another and discuss their experiences with the program.

Teachers from the other districts ask if Scranton’s data shows that the program works, but the school doesn’t have much collected.

“What’s going to be a telltale sign is, we have one year of North Dakota State Assessment tests under our belt, and when that comes up next year we’re going to reveal our scores no matter what,” she said.

Though she indicated that teachers have said they feel that their students have improved in their writing skills with Step Up to Writing.

GAMES