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LO teachers write the book

Two LOSD veterans publish teaching manual on essay writing
by: barb randall Jane Lierman, left, and Beth Elliot have written “Essay Writing Made Easy with the Hourglass Organizer,” a book that could improve teaching techniques of teachers across the nation. An example of the hourglass organizer is on the bulletin board between them.

It could be said that Lake Oswego School District teachers figuratively 'wrote the book' when it comes to exhibiting professionalism and effective teaching skills.

And when you are speaking about Beth Elliot and Jane Lierman, they literally wrote the book - 'Essay Writing Made Easy With the Hourglass Organizer,' a manual that could improve the teaching techniques of teachers around the nation and make essay writing easier for middle school students.

Elliot has taught for 19 years, the last 10 of which have been in the English department at Lake Oswego High School.

Lierman has taught for more than 25 years. She has taught for LOSD for the past 20 years at all grade levels. She now teaches a blended fifth- and sixth-grade class at Oak Creek Elementary and has published eight books prior to this.

The women met in graduate school in 2007, when they were working to obtain their administrative degrees. They shared a common interest in wanting to improve writing skills at the elementary and high school levels. Naturally they talked about writing a lot, and at one point Elliot asked Lierman if she used the hourglass organizer. Lierman replied she didn't know about it, and so Elliot drew a visual for her.

Elliot explained the hourglass organizer is a framework that can be used to organize all expository writing. The essay introduction, hook and transition bridge into a three-pronged theme, which is expanded in the body of the essay and supported by concrete details and analysis or commentary to draw the conclusion of the essay.

Elliot has used the method for the past 10 years. She has students completely write their introductions and then draft outlines. Success follows. The teachers report that with this method, story development takes less time and students are starting to see that their writing isn't coming out of thin air.

'This is not revolutionary,' Elliot said. '(The method) solidifies how to better deliver writing skills to my students.'

For Lierman, the visual of the hourglass was key. Another key component of the method is the parent feedback form, which all parents are required to complete on each writing assignment.

'Parents must participate,' Lierman said. She said this component has been very valuable to students, parents and teachers, as parents need to actually read the essay rather than scribble a signature on a paper.

Elliot said they don't take credit for creating the method - just for writing it down.

'This was something that wasn't available before,' she said. The book is a good resource for the first-year teacher as well as a more seasoned teacher just needing a fresh approach, she said.

And apparently, there was a need for the book. Scholastic Books, a trusted name in educational materials, has published 'Essay Writing Made Easy With the Hourglass Organizer,' and Elliot and Lierman are slated to speak, along with others presenting the latest research on reading, at the International Reading Association's annual conference in Chicago in April.

'Neither of us has attended the conference before,' Lierman said. 'We have an hour for our presentation. We've got time to prepare for it.'

The two are looking forward to attending other sessions at the conference and bringing information back to share with other teachers.