Deborah Stephenson is an educator, presenter, author, and entrepreneur. Debbie worked in education first as a teacher before she started her business that sold and published her K-5 supplemental writing program, The Write Connection, and 1-4 intersession, Ollie's Adventure Series, a complete language arts program.
Almost immediately Debbie started developing her writing program when she first started teaching in 1991. As a former struggling writer herself while in college, she felt a connection with her students.
After seeing the success of her first creation, a student friendly rubric, or a set of rules, she developed a series of them. In doing so, she empowered her students because they would now understand the rules by which they would be graded.
Now that her students understood her expectations, there was still a big problem. She soon learned that the way grammar and punctuational skills were taught was flawed because the skills did not transfer into their own writing. The lessons were too far removed, and the students couldn’t make the connection. She felt the lessons should resemble their own writing. This was when she started writing her own language arts lessons that looked like rough drafts. Next, she came up way to turn the drudgery of learning language arts skills into a competitive game-like activity. As a result, the skills transferred into their essays and her students became eager and enthusiastic learners.
Though the students were learning the skills, they still had a hard time writing essays that went with their reading series. To fix this, she wrote an enhanced version of an outline that went with each story called Pre-Writes.
During that time, the three parts, Language Arts by Topic, Pre-Writes, and Rubric System were not connected. What brought the program together was that her students had a difficult time writing fiction, which was the academic focus in the 90s and still today. Making fiction even more challenging, most of her students were English language learners who came from poor families. Combined with their young ages, also meant her children had limited experiences from which to draw.
She then came up with the idea of using mostly science and social studies topics for the content in the Language Arts by Topic daily lessons. Students use the content from these lessons to write their essays. She also discovered that students not only learned how to write, but they had the added benefit of learning academic vocabulary while being introduced to content rich topics they were would be studying anyway, which also prepared them for life.
After writing three years of curriculum, she left teaching, and her curriculum immediately sold. She went on to write the remaining years and a summer school program while doing presentations and teacher trainings.
With the adoption of Common Core, students are now required to write more non-fiction in the content areas such as science and social studies. Though it took some time, Debbie already knew that students gained more by writing in these academically rich content areas and it also prepared them for college and career.