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TIM MCSHANE                                         WESTWOOD MIDDLE SCHOOL

Eighth Grade Language Arts                      Room 08-004

HOTLINE: (use touchtone telephone) 955-6942, #5380



            My primary focus is on writing, as it is informed by reading, listening, speaking, and viewing. Writing is a complicated mental process, but it requires a certain physical dexterity and stamina. With that in mind, the following Rules of Writing Practice* have been developed:


1.   Keep your pen moving.

2.   Don't stop to re-read, re-write, or correct mistakes.

3.   Don't think; just write.


            (*These rules apply ONLY to the creation of first or rough drafts, where it is essential to get words and ideas on paper. Finished drafts, of course, require much thought, careful revision, editing, and proofreading.)

  By practicing their writing regularly, students should accumulate a great deal of first draft writing from which they can then select pieces to fashion into a finished draft. I recommend the use of composition books for writing practice. I normally do not ask to see a student's first or rough draft writing. I read only what is submitted to me, that which the student chooses to share. This gives the writer a greater freedom of expression in generating ideas.
We practice writing according to these rules during timed exercises in class. (I always write with the students to model this activity, and I share at every opportunity my experience as a professional writer and Member of the Dramatists Guild.) While writing topics are often assigned, the best topics are usually chosen by the writer. These exercises last at least 10 minutes, sometimes as long as 40 minutes.

STANDING HOMEWORK POLICY: Students should write for at least 10 minutes a day, strictly according to the Rules of Writing Practice, seven days a week, 365 days a year. This is in addition to out-of-class writing and re-writing assignments.


STATE WRITING ASSESSMENT TEST: This test, administered to all eighth graders in February, is an important factor in high school placement. It requires students to create a complete essay on an assigned topic in 45 minutes. The essays are scored by the state, holistically, on a six-point rubric, which I will gladly provide on request. Students practice for the test regularly. The results are kept on file. All student work on file is available for viewing at any time. All student work is returned to the students at the end of the nine weeks.


TIM MCSHANE                                         WESTWOOD MIDDLE SCHOOL

Eighth Grade Language Arts                      Hotline: 955-6942, #5380


GRAMMAR AND USAGE: I believe in a normative grapholect, a language with rules. Students will be provided instruction in proper usage, grammar, and mechanics. In class we will diagram sentences to analyze structure and function. Our systematic study will proceed according to the outline of Strunk & White's Elements of Style: Usage, Composition, Form, Style. Specifically, we will study in the following order: resources, mechanics, verbs, nouns, pronouns, modifiers, phrases, and clauses. Our textbook (available upon request) is Houghton-Mifflin Grade 8 English.

LITERATURE: To the best of my ability I try to foster a love of literature. To this end, I utilize dramatic readings during which students are asked to read along silently. Simultaneously this provides a pronunciation guide for new vocabulary words as well as contextual clues. This year, in addition to shorter works and selections from the great masters, we will read from among the following books: Heroes, Gods, and Monsters of Greek Mythology; The Adventures of Ulysses; The Pigman; Stories of Edgar Allan Poe; Robinson Crusoe; The Wind in the Willows; The Hound of the Baskvervilles; Romeo and Juliet; Macbeth; A Midsummer Night's Dream; Twelfth Night; Huckleberry Finn; Alice in Wonderland; A Christmas Carol. Parent permission is required for all independent reading.

THE GREAT WRITERS: Each day the name of an acknowledged master, ranging from antiquity to the present, appears in the proper heading on the chalkboard. As time permits I offer readings from and biographical sketches of The Great Writers.

ASSIGNMENTS: Each nine weeks there will be nine graded assignments, requiring students to develop specific writing skills, such as narration, exposition, persuasion, and analysis. All work submitted should conform to the following standards: proper heading, blue or black ink, cursive, margins, loose-leaf paper. Computer-generated or typewritten work is perfectly acceptable for all out-of-class assignments.

GRADES: Each assignment is worth 10 points (10=A, 9=B, 8=C, 7=D, 6=F), except for the last, which is worth 20 points. Grades are based on a 100-point system, using the county-wide grading scale. I accept late work up to the last possible moment before I must compile grades; however, my assumption is that the longer a student takes to complete the work, the better it should be.

EXTRA CREDIT: All students are encouraged to write finished drafts for extra credit. Suggested works are stories, poems, essays, plays, memoirs, autobiography and biography, critiques, experimental works, and studies, including written work of literary merit submitted in other classes such as History, Science, Math, and Art. Students may also earn extra credit by calling the Hotline and leaving a message, discussing literary or grammatical topics or reciting poetry or prose.


McShane, Language Arts


Reading 2002-2003:


1. Heroes, Gods, and Monsters of Greek Mythology

2. The Adventures of Ulysses

3. Oedipus Rex

4. Romeo and Juliet

5. Robinson Crusoe

6. Alice in Wonderland

7. A Christmas Carol

8. Huckleberry Finn

9. The Pigman

10. The Wind in the Willows


Class Schedule:

Monday: Reading/Writing Laboratory (Experimentation)

Tuesday: Reading/Writing Workshop (Grammar/Drafting/Revising/Editing)

Wednesday: Sustained Silent Reading/Response

Thursday: Literature and Criticism

Friday: Review and Sharing



Free Write – Ten pages of first draft writing (front/back), observing the rules of writing practice. This assignment is given only once during the school year. It is the first assignment, due in two weeks; however, the assignment will be accepted anytime throughout the year. It is worth 10 points.

Five Good Sentences – What is a good sentence? It goes without saying that it must be grammatically and syntactically correct. To be good, however, it must either increase the reader's knowledge or be aesthetically pleasing. Worth 10 points.

Literary Criticism – Analysis of: plot, character, thought, diction, sound, spectacle; appreciation of figurative language; relating art to life and life to art. Worth ten or twenty points.

Revised Draft – Any revised or finished piece of writing with an identifiable beginning, middle, and end: an essay, poem, story, novel, novella, a chapter or scene from any work of fiction or non-nonfiction, biography, autobiography, memoir, play, screenplay, dream, treatise, report, critique, review . . .  Worth ten or twenty points or more.

Grammar Test – Sentence corrections (including grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling) and diagrams (or labeling of sentence elements).

In-class Essay – In preparation for the State Writing Assessment Test, given in February, when students will be required to write a complete and polished essay on a given topic. Strategies and techniques for both persuasive and expository essays will be demonstrated.

Term Paper  -- Any revised or final draft of an extended piece of writing, at least10-pages long. Successful term papers in the past have been creative memoirs of middle school or eighth grade, biographies, autobiographies, family histories, as well as traditional term papers on subjects of interest, ranging from baseball to World War Two, and full length works of fiction. (Minimum 10 pages, double-spaced, 12-point type or handwritten, front and back.)

            Points: Term paper Idea (10); Beginning (20); Middle (20); End (10).

Total: 60 (or more)

Final Exam – Four essay questions dealing with language expression, grammar, literature, and writing across the curriculum. Twenty points (or more).


Extra Credit:

Call the Language Arts Hotline (955-6942, #5380) and demonstrate your knowledge and oratorical powers, interpreting, creating, or just stopping by.

Reading Correspondence – Communicate with someone about your reading.

The Journey of All Time – our Caught ÔYa story, worth one bonus point a week.

Finish or revise a piece of writing.


I encourage the use of cursive handwriting for handwritten assignments, although it is not required. It is my belief that it is, theoretically at least, more efficient, since cursive writing is more continuous than printing and removes the necessity of lifting the writing instrument between each character.


Assignment Schedule:

First Nine Weeks

Assignment                            points             due

Free Write                              10                    August 30

Five Good Sentences            10                    September 6

Essay                                      10                    September 13

Revised Draft                        20                    September 20

Grammar Test                       20                    September 27

Essay                                      10                    October 4

Revised Draft                        20                    October 11


Second Nine Weeks

In-class essay                         10                    October 25

In-class essay                         10                    November 1

Revised Draft                        20                    November 8

Grammar Test                       20                    November 15

Literary Criticism                  10                    November 22

In-class essay                         10                    November 29

In-class essay                         10                    December 6

In-class essay                         10                    December 13


Third Nine Weeks

In-class essays                       20                    January 17

In-class essay                         10                    January 24

In-class essay                         10                    January 31

In-class essay                         10                    February 7

In-class essay                         10                    February 14

Review of SWAT                  10                    February 21

Grammar Test                       10                    February 28   

Literary Criticism                  20                    March 7


Fourth Nine Weeks

Term Paper Idea                    10                    March 21

Beginning                               20                    April 4

Middle                                    20                    April 18

End                                         10                    April 25

Grammar Test                       10                    May 2

Literary Criticism                  10                    May 9

Final Exam                            20                    May 28


Composition Books

I encourage the use of Composition Books, although I do not require them. They have served me well in my writing practice for a long time. I use them for all my first draft writing and share their contents selectively to demonstrate my writing process or include others in that process. I never ask to see a student's writing practice or Composition Book. I prefer only writing that has been revised or finalized and selected for sharing.


2002 State Writing Test Results:

Westwood average score: 4.0

McShane students: 4.2


23% of all my students earned a 5.0 or above.


Percentage of McShane students showing one-year gain or more on FCAT scores: 73%


1998 FCAT Writing Test

score               #students

2.0                   6

2.5                   9

3.0                   17

3.5                   24

4.0                   26

4.5                   11

5.0                   13

5.5                   1

6.0                   2


(McShane) 109 students: average score – 3.720


2002 FCAT Writing Test

score               #students

2.0                   0

2.5                   1

3.0                   10

3.5                   4

4.0                   33                   

4.5                   13

5.0                   16

5.5                   1

6.0                   1


(McShane) 77 students: average score  --  4.158


2003 FCAT Writing Test


score               #students                  

2.0                             3                                                         

2.5                             2                      F

3.0                             17                    D

3.5                             18                    C

4.0                             36                    B

4.5                             22                    A

5.0                             9                     

5.5                             4

6.0               3


14% scoring 5.0 or above

33% scoring 4.5 or above

65% scoring 4.0 or above


(McShane) 114 students: average score -- 3.973


Westwood – 320 students: average score – 3.7