Saturday, February 1, 2014

Forget the Picture, They'll Take the Thousand Words

Liz Driehaus, left, and Kelsey Lee
Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Pottsgrove School District.

Two students representing Pottsgrove High School recently won highest honors in this year's WordWright Challenge, a competition for American high school students requiring close reading and analysis of many different kinds of prose and poetry.

In the year's second meet, held in December, junior Liz Driehaus, who earned a near-perfect score, placed second among the 88 highest-scoring eleventh graders in the country.

At the same time, Kelsey Lee, who also earned a near perfect score, placed among the 99th highest scoring twelfth graders in the country.

More than 69,000 students from 47 states entered the meet, so that's pretty good.

Teacher Todd Kelly oversaw the students' participation.

The premise behind the WordWright challenge is that attentive reading and sensitivity to language are among the most important skills students acquire in school.

The text students must analyze for WordWright can range from short fiction by Eudora Welty or JOhn Updike to poetry as old as Shakespeare's or as recent as Margaret Atwood's, to essays, such as classics by E.B. White, or as current as a Time Magazine essay by James Poniewozik.

Though the texts vary widely in voice, subject, tone and length, they have one thing in common -- style.

All use language skillfully to use language and shades of meaning not always apparent to students on a first or casual reading. Like the questions of the verbal SAT tests, the questions posed in the WordWright Challenge, ask students both to recognize the emotional and/or rational logic of a piece of writing and to notice the ways in which a writer's style shapes and shades his meaning.

Because the WordWright Challenge is a classroom activity and not a college-entrance exam however, it can be a learning experience and not just a high hurdle.

After completing a challenge, classes are encouraged to talk about the texts and and the answers to the multiple choice questions, and are also given additional topics for open-ended discussion and/or written response.

The texts for the WordWright Challenge this year were an Op-Ed piece from The New York Times for 9th and 10th graders, and an excerpt from a novel by Anthony Trollope for 11th and 12th graders.

The students will compete in two more WordWright meets in the coming months. Medals and certificates will be awarded in June to those who achieve, and or improve the most in the course of the year.

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