Graded’s Four Pillars Series - Academics: Grade 8 Personal Essays

The Graded Gazette

Graded's Four Pillars—academics, arts, athletics, and service—serve as an educational framework and play a critical role in student character and skill development. In this issue of the Graded Gazette, we delve into academics.

Teaching and learning at Graded are rooted in the belief that deep and enduring learning experiences happen when students and faculty have a strong sense of belonging, purpose, autonomy, and motivation, and can use their knowledge and skills in new and innovative ways. 

Graded teachers are trained to create a vibrant learning environment by incorporating six core learning principles into their classrooms: prior knowledge and experience, agency, collaboration, mastery as process, transfer and authenticity, and conceptual organization of learning.

Each year, Graded eighth-graders delve into the personal essay genre in their English classes. They craft compelling narratives that resonate with others and convey their wisdom.

Armed with an inspirational booklet of notable personal essays, they analyze each piece's theme, style, structure, and literary devices that the author employs using the TAP (Tenacious, Active, and Personal) annotation process. When they TAP, they engage deeply with the text, enhancing their understanding, recall, and ability to relate the content to their lives. 

“This type of annotation is an incredible way to make thinking and learning more visible,” said Deeper Learning Coordinator Andrew Hossack. “Through their notes, students are showing their prior knowledge and experience, their level of mastery, and their conceptual understanding that they are transferring from one experience to another.”

Students then dive into the creative process as they brainstorm and begin to lay the groundwork for their essays.

“We had to think of a moment in our lives when something really changed how we view the world,” said grade 8 student Bernardo Y.

With a new toolbox of strategies, students experiment with their writing through short exercises, numerous drafts, thought-provoking questions, and feedback from their peers and teachers. Finally, they craft essays, assembling the puzzle pieces of newfound writing techniques, insightful feedback, and personal experiences.

“This allowed me to view different ways of studying the English language and literature,” said grade 8 student Aurora R. “It’s not just about reading a text. It’s about the analysis and the thought process that goes into it, and that the author put into writing.” 

Middle School Humanities Teacher Erin Rafferty explained that the grade 8 personal essay is “one piece in a chain of writing experiences that threads back to lower school.” 

Students build upon foundational skills each year through writing experiences and collaborative projects. Last semester, grade 8 students worked on their personal essays, while second-graders completed their small-moment stories. The older students visited second-grade classrooms to provide feedback to their young partners. The experience not only helped younger students but deepened the eighth-graders’ understanding of the writing process while honing their critical thinking and communication skills.

Learning to write at Graded is an ongoing process. Students find their voices while mastering the mechanics. By the time they reach high school, they are equipped with the necessary tools to communicate complex ideas in clear, sophisticated sentences to a wide range of audiences.