Six In Schools Utilized as a Superior Teaching Tool for Summarization

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Lone Star High School West - located in the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex facility in Brownwood, Texas - hung their Six in Schools projects in the hallway for all students to see. Helen Spearman, the school’s principal who happens to love new classroom strategies for teachers, believes the Six-Word Memoir (SWM) format gives students the opportunity to share their voices. It’s a sentiment that Mary Singer, the school’s Reading Specialist who introduced the project, can’t help but agree with.

As a school, Lone Star operates under the umbrella of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD). It is one of a number of halfway houses and secure facilities operated by the TJJD, which were built exclusively for youth who have been remanded to the programs by juvenile court judges from across the state of Texas. These facilities provide the youths treatment and services, as well as the tools they need to return to their communities to lead productive, fulfilling lives.

As such, Lone Star is the type of school that really requires specific teaching methods and strategies. According to Helen, “The Six-Word Memoir concept has helped the students because it has given them an opportunity to say something that they think matters to the world.”

In 2018, Mary and a group of English teachers on the campus came up with the idea of introducing SWM to the school as an effective teaching strategy. To introduce the format, the teachers showed examples of memoirs from the SWM website and made a point to show how the format worked as an effective teaching method for summarization. While only a few classrooms did the project in the first year, in the second, the Six-Word teaching method expanded to a department-wide project. 

“The teachers came up with this because our kids struggle with writing in all aspects,” says Helen. “They struggle with being specific and summarizing and generally don’t enjoy it. Six-Word Memoirs is an effective way for them to practice those skills, as well as learn that writing can be enjoyable.”

When Mary was still an English teacher, her classroom teaching strategy was to use Six-Word Memoirs as her first day activity. “Students knew they would be sharing them with each other, and they would spend time really considering what they wanted to say. Especially since they knew the memoirs allowed others to make inferences about who they were as people,” Mary said. “I filled my walls with their memoirs, and during the year, they would get my students to engage with one another. Sometimes they would guess who wrote them, and sometimes they would bring me over to read ones that emotionally moved them or that they described as ‘fire.’ I loved seeing the way my students interacted with words and emotions. Not only did Six-Word Memoirs introduce the students to each other, but also to the idea that each word needs to be carefully chosen. Every word has power.”

Their posted memoirs expressed wanderlust (“Your journey in this world comes.”); others delivered daily mantras (“You are worth so much more.”). Students wrote about harsh lessons (“Struggles in life are for everyone”) and some dove under the surface of the labels that constantly define us (“Eyes are seen without the body”). Each six-word story sheds light on the unique minds of those who wrote them.

However, the project wasn’t only engaging for the students, but the staff as well. “After noticing the effectiveness of the ones hung up on the wall, the English teachers decided to invite the rest of the staff to write and post their own memoirs,” says Helen.

Today? All of Lone Star’s English classes participate in the Six in Schools project, and the results are hung in the hallway for all to enjoy. Helen says the Six-Words format helps students concisely focus their ideas, and practice summarizing their thoughts. These teaching strategy examples are what really make the Six in Schools project special to Lone Star and its students.

Mary reflects that the Six-Word method always has an overwhelmingly positive reaction from students. And when students get positive feedback from their peers? That’s where the importance of writing strategies comes into play. It’s that positive feedback that gives students the confidence to take risks in their future writing. Student writers don’t normally take risks, but Six-Word Memoirs makes them realize that their peers want to hear what they have to say.

“Six in Schools provides a creative and engaging way for students to practice the types of writing with which they struggle,” Helen reflects. “And at our school, the students do struggle. But with Six-Words, anyone can participate. Students and staff, regardless of ability and background.”