Students Learning To Write At An Early Age

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Teacher Judith Hunter helps Maddy McPhillips check her spelling and re-write her essay during a writing class at Pine Strawberry Elementary School.

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

For his writing exercise, Lars Tanner wrote about why he liked dogs more than cats.

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Mercedes Miranda concentrates on her writing assignment in Judith Hunter’s third-grade class at Pine Strawberry Elementary School.

One is soft and cuddly the other loyal and fun. It’s the age old questions: what makes a better pet, a dog or a cat?

Ask any third-grader in Judy Hunter’s class at Pine Strawberry Elementary School and you are bound to hear some rather strong opinions.

Student Lars Tanner writes, “Cats are very stubborn. First, while they are eating and you pet them they will hiss at you. They also eat your food. Cats will eat your fish. If you own a fish, guess who is poling at your fish?”

Dogs on the other hand according to Maddy McPhillips are great because “if you were sad or lonely you would have a buddy to cheer you up.”

Most students agree with Tanner and McPhillips that dogs are the “paws” down winner in this discussion.

However, this is not just a debate in which pet is better, it is a lesson in writing.

Every week, Hunter gives students a new topic to write about.

Once a topic is assigned, students brainstorm three ideas that they want to write about. Based on those ideas, students define two more ideas that relate to each topic.

Once students have a clear idea what they want to write, they begin with an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs and a conclusion that relates back to the introduction.

This formula might sound familiar to most because it is the standard writing template taught throughout school.

What makes it different is the age students are learning to write.

Hunter, who has taught for 32 years — 22 years in Pine — say teachers are starting to teach writing earlier.

“When I first started, we didn’t talk about writing in first- or second-grade,” she said, “and then started AIMS.”

Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) tests student proficiency in writing, reading, mathematics and science. It is given from third-grade through eighth with students in fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade tested on writing. In high school, students take the test in 10th-grade and must pass it in order to graduate from high school.

For Hunter, this is the second year she has worked with the same students on writing.

She moved with the students from second- to third-grade because there were not enough second-graders to warrant a class this year.

Even after only a few years of instruction, Hunter said the students “are very capable writers.”

Maddy’s mom Jaime McPhillips said she has seen an improvement in her daughter’s writing.

“Just this year her writing has gotten better,” she explained because Maddy now uses punctuation, capital letters and other writing conventions.

Hunter recently began teaching the students about conventions along with the five other traits of writing — organization, word choice, sentence fluency, voice and ideas.

She introduces the ideas gradually through new topics and then works with the students individually to reinforce concepts.

After each writing activity, Hunter and teacher Nancy Kane go through each assignment one on one with students to point out corrections and give feedback.

Student Mercedes Miranda said she loves the writing assignments.

“I would keep going if they let me,” she said, adding that she would like to be a writer when she gets older.

For Hunter, this is her last year teaching. After more than three decades, Hunter is retiring at the end of the school year to travel.

Hunter got her feet wet in education in Pine as a teacher’s aide in 1975. At the time, she had no interest in being a teacher until Sue Myers and Mary Lou Myers inspired her to continue her education.

“I planned to work with stroke patients,” she said. However, after working with the Myerses, Hunter decided working with kids was not so bad.

After going back to school, she taught first-grade in Texas for 11 years and then returned to Pine where she taught in the school’s old rock building.

“I so enjoyed working in the old rock building, I thought it was fabulous,” she said.

Even though she is stepping away from teaching full time, Hunter plans to substitute teach and stay active in the community.

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