Monday, December 29, 2003

College admissions exams to bolster writing sections

Education Q&A

Question: The SAT will soon focus more on writing. Why? What can parents do to prepare?

Answer: The new SAT - which students from the class of 2006 will first take in March 2005 - will add a section that stresses writing and includes an essay. The ACT, a competing college exam set, also is adding writing to its English test in February 2005.

"Academically, writing is a skill for all subjects," says Raymond J. Huntington of Huntington Learning Centers, a for-profit test preparation firm.

"Students who write well almost always outperform their peers on assignments that require written interpretation, analysis and describing what they've learned. In life, writing skills have a tremendous impact in the way we present ourselves."

Most fourth-grade students spend less than three hours a week writing, which is 15 percent of the time that they spend watching TV, according to the National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges.

Parents who want their children to buck that trend should:

• Ask your child to help you write letters, even routine ones, such as ordering items from an ad or contacting a business. "Students need meaningful writing tasks that are designed to meet objectives," Huntington says.

• Have your child write to express feelings, perhaps in a diary or journal. "When children write about things that concern them, they're more apt to strive for 'just the right words,' " he says.

• Get them to argue on paper when they ask for a special favor or privilege. Writing persuasively is vital in middle and high school. • Make them summarize reading assignments. Middle and secondary school homework often requires reading and analyzing. Taking notes to summarize passages is a low-stress way to synthesize important facts while improving writing, he says.

"Keep in mind that this is one task where students really do learn by doing,'' Huntington says.

Question: I have been retired for six years and ready to try volunteering. I have done volunteering for my family's projects, gardens, lawns, etc. Recently I have taken training for reading tutoring. How can I help children in the "lower" neighborhoods in Cincinnati - lower Walnut Hills, Mt. Auburn, Mt. Adams, Clifton ... not the kids in the suburbs?

Answer: Cincinnati Public Schools officials offer these tips for getting involved:

• Check with principals because each school's needs vary. Some can use help in classrooms, lunchrooms or on playgrounds.

• Contact organizations that put tutors and mentors in schools, such as the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, which matches volunteers to individual students to work one-on-one. (475-4959

Also try Cincinnati Reads, which puts volunteers in classes to help with reading skills. (784-0450 or

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