Author Heather Lattimer reminds us that “good nonfiction shouldn’t let readers forget. It should capture readers’ imagination and spark within them an intense desire to learn, not just about interesting people and places, but about ideas and perspectives.” (Thinking Through Genre, 2003, p.70) This is the great benefit of introducing students to feature article writing.
Feature articles dig in, going deeper than the superficial news bytes that bombard most of us on a daily basis. By reaching beyond the dry facts, features provide a fresh take on a real issue, challenge or problem. They have the potential to inspire readers’ compassion, understanding and enthusiasm for topics that may not previously have been on their radar.
When studying this genre in the classroom, students get the chance to generate non-fiction that is more exciting than what is typically assigned. Often, the non-fiction that students are required to write emphasizes facts rather than ideas. For too many young teens, this type of writing becomes an unmotivating exercise in paraphrasing material from a text. Feature article writing, on the other hand, offers students a vehicle to communicate their unique perspectives on a particular issue existing in the world today. Students are encouraged to articulate ideas thoughtfully, develop their own voices and recognize that their voices have power -all of which are skills that contribute to a successful adulthood.
Middle School writers will:
Writing Feature Articles is grounded in best practice in writing instruction, drawing from the extensive body of research on balanced literacy and the “writing workshop” model as well as the
recommendations and concerns of educators “on the front line.” Teachers who participate are provided with a professional development institute, on-site mentoring and a unique set of web-based classroom resources for teaching and learning.
By logging on to the program’s website, teachers gain access to a complete set of lesson plans,
accompanying classroom visuals and the Online Classroom, a user-friendly area where they can collect and evaluate student work and help students publish for a real online audience. Technology-based resources are also provided for students. Their learning is scaffolded with amusing animated shorts, sample writers’ notebooks and other writing samples, and a series of curriculum-based multimedia activities and tutorials that are instructionally on track and, at the same time, highly motivating to high-tech teens.
Recognizing the heterogeneity of today’s classrooms, Writing Feature Articles offers flexibility. Our most important word of advice to participating teachers is to make this unit their own. To help make the six-week experience successful, the curriculum gives teachers “breathing room” to re-teach, add their own unique lessons and modify those provided here in order to meet the specific needs of their students.
Other important recommendations to teachers for ensuring successful implementation include:
“In truth, we do not have a choice if we want our students to succeed in the world in which they find themselves. Functional literacy as we know it means that people are able to process print in their environment, whether it be, for example, newspapers, train schedules, or official government documents.”
(Wepner, Valmont & Thurlow, eds. Linking Literacy and Technology: A Guide for K-8 Classrooms. Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association, 2000.)
A major goal of Writing Feature Articles is to introduce technology tools that promote learning and are essential to writing for middle school students and teachers – accessing and analyzing online information, sharing ideas with peers and teachers, producing high quality print material through
revision and editing, publishing, etc.
Technology provides many tools and supports for writing, particularly writing that is taught through the writing workshop approach. Students do not only share ideas, draft, edit and publish their work easily, but also engage in the same writing venture that their parents and older siblings take part in. This makes their effort worth it – it is truly authentic, professional and important.
Writing Feature Articles adheres to principles of cyber-safety by housing student communication in a password protected environment in which only teachers and students enrolled in the program may interact with one another. Student work is published online with permission of parents and contains first names only. No last names or other personal information are posted for public viewing.