Friday, May 31, 2013

La Jolla High wordsmiths show their skills in WordWright

La Jolla High School's two teams have won the highest honors in year-end standings of this year's WordWright Challenge, a national competition for high school students requiring close reading and analysis of many different kinds of prose and poetry.

Participating with 582 high school teams from all across the country, the La Jolla's tenth graders tied for ninth place in the nation in the cumulative standings at the end of the four meets held this year (after finishing first in the nation in the year's final meet). At the same time, the school's 11th-graders tied for 15th place in the nation (after placing eighth in the final meet). The teams were supervised by Jewel Weien.
Three of the school's students won highest honors for year-long individual achievements as well: Sophomore Nika Ostovari place among the six highest-scoring 10th-graders in the entire country in the year-end cumulative standings, while her teammates Chloe Elliott and Charlie Mann both tied for eleventh place in the nation.

Students who excelled in the year¹s final meet, held in April, included sophomores Lauren Dorst, Chloe Elliott, Charlie Mann, Nika Ostovar, and Enzo Serafino, all of whom earned perfect scores. Sophomores Alma Halgren, Rain Joslin, Reed Vickerman, and Louise Xu, and juniors Marisa Liang, Tessa Lowe, and Trevor Menders each made only one mistake.

The premise behind the WordWright Challenge is that attentive reading and sensitivity to language are among the most important skills students acquire in school. The texts students must analyze for the Challenge can range from short fiction by Eudora Welty or John Steinbeck to poetry as old as Shakespeare's or as recent as Margaret Atwood's, and to essays as classic at E.B. White's or as current as a Time Magazine opinion piece by James Poniewozik. Though the texts vary widely in voice, subject, tone, and length, they have one thing in common: style. All use language skillfully to convey layers and shades of meaning not always apparent to students on a first or casual reading.

Like the questions on the verbal SAT I, the SAT II in English Literature, and the Advanced Placement exams in both English Language and English Literature, the questions posed by the Challenge ask students both to recognize the emotional and/or rational logic of a piece of writing and to notice the ways in which a writer's style shapes and shades his meaning. Because the WordWright Challenge is a classroom activity and not a college-entrance exam, however, it can be a learning experience, not just a high hurdle. After completing the Challenge, classes are encouraged to talk about the text and the answers to the multiple-choice questions, and are also given additional topics for open-ended discussion and/or written response.

The texts for the fourth WordWright meet this year were a pair of essays by Stanley Fish and Michael Winerip for ninth- and 10th-graders and a poem by Katha Pollitt for 11th- and 12th-graders. Now that all four of the year's meets have been completed, medals and certificates will be presented to those who achieved and/or improved the most in the course of the year.