Advice from MLC Reading & Writing Experts
At MEK, our instructors are the heart and soul of every class and program we offer. MEK instructors are trained, certified professionals in their specific field of study. So, you can rest assured that your child is receiving the best instruction, materials, and support to guide them on their academic or admissions journey to reading and writing skills.
With middle school students, making sure they are building strong study habits and learning useful reading and writing strategies is essential. And our MLC Reading and MLC Writing Programs curricula puts those essential skills as core objectives for instruction.
We talked to a few of our MLC Reading and MLC Writing instructors, Jose Beltre, Kathy Kim, Victoria Murano, and Malek Charchour, to give you an inside look into the MLC classroom. Read on to learn how they build reading and writing skills, keep students engaged, and prepare students for tough high school admissions tests.
Advice for Success in the English Classroom
What does it take to be successful in an English class?
Kathy Kim: I think attitude is important. As a student, you need to be open minded and understanding. You may be a decent writer, but there is always more to learn. For example, I sometimes get students who think they know everything, and then, after a class or two, they realize they don’t. I have spent a lot of time writing, and there’s still more for me to learn!
Another way to succeed in an English class is to understand the basics of writing. It takes repetition. Students need to repeatedly use the 5 paragraph essay structure. Once they have the basics mastered, then they can be creative and subvert the rules.
I always tell them that the strategies they learn in class may seem pointless, but these strategies are actually helping their brains build essential skills. There’s a bigger picture. For example, when it comes to grammar, grammar isn’t just about knowing how to use a comma or semicolon, it’s about understanding basic structure, which helps your brain develop foundational skills that lead to later success.
Reading and Writing Advice: The Key to Becoming a More Confident Reader and Writer
What is the key to becoming a better writer?
Jose Beltre: Becoming a better writer takes practice. You need to write as much as possible. It can be an essay, an email, a sentence, a paragraph, or even a note to your parents, but you need to write. Then, you need to look over what you wrote and reflect on it.
You aren’t going to write a perfect first draft of an essay. It takes many drafts before an essay is polished. That takes rereading your writing, reflecting on your work, and making the necessary edits to make it great. It’s like when you read a book for the first time; you miss things you won’t get on subsequent readings. In revising, a writer will see that a sentence may have looked good the first time but realize that it does not fit or needs to be changed after looking it over with a clear eye. With writing, repetition and writing as much as possible are key.
How do you help your students build confidence in their writing skills?
Kathy Kim: I tell students that their scores don’t correlate to their intelligence. I make sure to explain the grading parameters and expectations for essay writing very clearly, but I also explain that a low grade doesn’t mean that they are a bad writer. A low grade on an essay simply means that you need to take into account what you’re putting into your writing. Your writing needs to show the effort that you put into it.
For example, if a student earns a 3 on an essay, the grade does not reflect on him/her as a writer. It’s that they simply didn’t include one of the essential components of the essay. Alternatively, if a student is scoring a 4 or 5 on the essays, and he/she starts to score lower, it’s because I want the student’s writing to mature and because he/she is ready to add to his/her writing through compositional risks, such as using figurative language.
How do you build students’ reading skills?
Jose Beltre: I try to impress the necessity of writing as you read. Students should use their pens to “talk to the text”. I always tell students that a piece of text will give them information but won’t tell them what that information is. Therefore, they need to decipher what’s important about a work or passage. This means rereading texts to disseminate questions that are posed that they may have missed during a first reading.
If students annotate as they read, the likelihood that they will have to go back into the text frantically looking for an important passage or quote lessens. I show them the skill and encourage them to annotate as much as possible. Whether they are highlighting a passage that didn’t make sense or underlining a quote that stood out, I tell them to make a note in the text and go back to it later. If students make a point of doing this, they’ll get so much more of the works they are reading.
Malek Charchour: Reading takes patience, especially for younger students. Once a student develops a personal relationship with writing through such mediums as free writes or journaling, which are more accessible forms of writing, they start to have more patience for language and a better appreciation of texts. Everybody loves stories, and when a student uses writing to tell their own story, they are able to see the close connection between reading a story and the craft of writing a story. I also find that reading aloud helped me a lot when I was growing up, and it is a practice that I find to be very helpful and enjoyable particularly when it comes to poetry and difficult material.
Student Engagement with Reading and Writing
Keeping younger kids interested in the lesson can be challenging. What’s your key to student engagement in the classroom?
Kathy Kim: Children in younger grades are energetic, and they are trying to figure themselves out. During my in-person classes I stand up and walk around. This makes it easier for me to monitor them. But no matter if I am with them in-person or in the virtual classroom, I engage them in the way I talk to them. I like to use humor and to joke around with them. This helps them relate to me, and also helps them to see their errors in a way that feels safe and comfortable.
Victoria Murano: Strategies for student engagement depend on the class, since each class has its own dynamic. I’ve also noticed that student engagement is easier to achieve in-person than in the virtual classroom.
The first thing I like to do for student engagement is to make my lessons as interesting as possible through asking questions to make sure they are following along and to reinforce what we’ve been learning. I also implement fun activities that have the students working in groups.
Building Mindset and Stamina
How do you build their stamina to keep up with the practice of repeating skills?
Jose Beltre: That’s a team effort. It helps that the other teachers at MEK encourage the same skills and strategies that I use in my classroom. Since everyone is on the same page with utilizing best practices, we are all streamlined, which makes it easier. So, the students get consistent practice with skills no matter which class they are in.
Malek Charchour: The best way to build stamina is to find enjoyment in reading and writing so it won’t feel so tedious during high stakes exams. Again, it’s about the student building a relationship with reading and writing in order to gain appreciation and understanding of literature. If the student is able to see reading and writing as a positive experience, then they will be able to tackle those sections of the exam with confidence.
MLC & BCA Prep
How do you prepare students in MLC Critical Reading 8 for BCA?
Jose Beltre: I make sure the essays students are writing tackle BCA prompts. In class, we work on using effective hooks in their introduction and using their thesis statement to make real world connections. Also, we focus on citing and analyzing evidence, then using the analysis of the evidence to connect back to the thesis statement in the intro.
What’s your advice for students taking the BCA admissions test?
Jose Beltre: The advice I give to my students is to work with the texts you are given to the best of your ability. Use the text to help you create ideas, but don’t rely on it heavily. You need to find a happy balance between working the text and using strong evidence in your writing. Explain what the text means in your own words with flair and creativity.
And, of course, practice. Go through the writing process as diligently as possible. Make sure you are catching mistakes.
The writing portion of the BCA exam is a 40 minute section that can make or break a students’ ability to join this prestigious public school. The repetition and practice may feel boring and monotonous. But if students use their study sessions the right way and master reading and writing skills, they’ll get a huge reward.
Malek Charchour: Make a habit of reading more challenging texts. Difficult language can be intimidating for students, but if they face those difficult texts, they will develop comprehension. The earlier that students begin reading harder texts, the better because they will start to naturally understand different styles of writing while building their vocabulary.
MEK’s expert instructors are excited to work with your child to build the academic skills that yield amazing results in the classroom and create a lifelong love of learning.
Interested in our MEK Learning Circles program?
Take the first step in the MLC registration process by signing up for our free, virtual MEK Learning Circles Evaluation Test. Our MLC Evaluation Test is taken from the comfort of your home computer through our Canvas platform at no cost to you! You’ll also receive our signature score report via email that details your child’s academic standing in core subject areas of English and Math and a free consultation for course recommendations and next steps with our MLC Program Director, Ms. Binal Patel.
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