allowing Fetzer to demonstrate the use of her specially-designed
materials and technique. Previously, the school and PTA had spent
almost $6,000 on materials and training seminars toward the program.
The school is the first in the Huntington Beach City School
District to implement the school-wide unified approach to writing.
The teachers wanted Fetzer, the parents wanted her and the kids
had better be paying attention.
"She has so much energy," Tina Henning and her fellow teachers
whispered to each other on the sidelines.
Teachers from all grade levels in the school gathered in Hennig's
fourth-grade room to watch. Leaving their own classes with substitute
teachers, their feet enjoyed the time off, but their arms were ready
for action, notebooks and pens in hand.
Fetzer bounced around the classroom telling the class a story
about her trip to the Sierras. With a radiant smile and illustrative
arm movements, she explained the structure of the five-paragraph
essay they were about to write: An introductory paragraph with a hook
and a thesis statement, a body with three main ideas and the
conclusion. The students concentrated on following along while the
teachers frantically jotted it all down.
Noun, verb and adjective color-coded cards were held up by
students at the front of the classroom, while the class brainstormed
the introductory thesis statement.
"My family and I" went in the noun box.
"What about them?" Fetzer asked the class, "My family is
delightful, amazing, caring, loving. Tell your neighbor about your
Fetzer listened in on class discussions, commented, added her own
ideas and prompted the students on with more questions: What? Where?
Where did they travel? "To Asia." "To Europe." "Home!" Winifred
Lee, Christina Marquette and Andy Peng, all 9-years-old, huddled in a
circle exchanging ideas.
At a neighboring table, the teachers huddled together in a
"You would not believe the 14-word-sentence Nicky came up with
this morning," fourth-fifth grade teacher Sue Vernand shared. "She
was so proud."
The room buzzed with conversation. The students were amazed. The
teachers were impressed. Pitching ideas and telling stories, they
built the sentence, one word at a time.
Fetzer switched the kids around, changed the order, added in a
comma, a period and capitalization.
The final result: "During our summer vacation, my amazing family
and I traveled to the Sierras to have the time of our lives."
A couple more of those and the class would have their essay, 100
more could be a story, 1,000 more might be a book, 10,000 sentences could change the world.
* CORAL WILSON is a news assistant who covers education. She can
be reached at (714) 965-7177 or by e-mail at