Six Tips for Writing for the National Board
Sunday, January 27, 2019 by Joetta M. Schneider, NBCT

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

At this point in the year, candidates are writing and revising their written commentaries for National Board certification components, and they’ve heard a lot of advice about how to save space—some of which leave the writing almost unreadable. It’s not because the ideas and information aren’t good, but in general, candidates aren’t really ready for the information and don’t understand the reasons behind the advice.  Here’s what you need to know about writing to achieve National Board certification.

Start by writing your first draft of whichever component you’re on; begin by copying and pasting the prompts into a Word document and then answering the questions as clearly as possible below them. Then follow these tips to make your writing clear and concise.

Tip #1— Edit for content before using abbreviations

Before you begin using abbreviations like Sts for students, or the & sign rather than the word “and,” go through the prompts and make sure you’ve answered all of them. Take out any information that doesn’t answer one of the prompts. Go through your answers and look for statements to which someone could ask “Why do you say that?” or “How do you know?” In this case, you’ve been vague and you need to add a concrete example.

To ensure that your writing is concise and relevant, watch this video from Dr. Jenny Santilli, NBCT.

Now that you have thoroughly answered your prompts, used specific examples, and learned to be more succinct—now you can begin to look for space saving techniques.

Tip #2— Look for redundancies

For example, get rid of the double spaces after ending punctuation. 

Another example is using words that aren’t needed to convey the meaning. I used the word “that” too much. I’d write, “I thought that Student A needed more time to work.” It was easy enough to look for all the “thats” and take them out. The sentence reads as well when I write, “I thought Student A needed more time to work.”

One teacher wrote: “I teach grades 9-12 in a public school. I teach Algebra, Geometry, and Consumer Math.” She could easily combine the sentences to say, “I teach Algebra, Geometry, and Consumer Math, grades 9-12 in a public school.” Combining these sentences saved eight spaces. 

Once you’ve identified the places where you are typing unnecessarily repetitive keystrokes, you are ready to begin saving space with smaller words.

Tip #3— Use smaller words and shorter phrases

My best tip is to take out the words “and” or “but” and use a semicolon. For example, “In my classroom we value every student’s opinion; we listen before we speak” replaces “In my classroom we value every student’s opinion, and we listen before we speak.” When you find appropriate ways to join independent clauses, you will likely find that you’ve saved twenty to forty spaces in your writing.

When you re-read your work, look for long phrases that can be replaced with one word. “As well as” can be replaced with “and.” If you’ve used a plethora of words (change that to “a lot” of words) in an explanation, you can use a thesaurus to find a shorter word.  Isn’t it interesting that we can use the skills we once used to make our writing more elaborate to make our writing less so? We are using the thesaurus to look for less impressive words. Another example is in the first sentence of this paragraph. I could have written “As you re-read your work” and saved two spaces.

Educational jargon can sometimes be simplified. For example, which is shorter, “our state’s summative assessment” or “our state’s end-of-year test?”  You can save 4 spaces here. Look for opportunities to choose shorter words and phrases. 

The first time you use an educational term like Common Core Standards (CCS), you can put the abbreviation in parentheses and then use that abbreviation thereafter rather than write it out each time. Whole-brain teaching (WBT) is another example.

Tip #4— Use numbers rather than writing out their names 

Here we are again, undoing all those rules our English teachers taught us. If you can, follow the English mechanics rules. However, if you need to, you can write that you teach 4 sections of Spanish 1, rather than four. As an aside, did you notice that I used a 1 rather than the Roman numeral “I” for Spanish I? The reason we are being careful about abbreviations is that we want clarity.  Spanish I might not be the perfect example, but hopefully you can see what I mean by deciding what looks and reads more clearly.

Tip #5— Write well if you are an English teacher

Although we say you can flout the rules of English mechanics in writing for the National Board, this won’t work if you are an English teacher. English teachers historically have the lowest NBCT pass rates. Assessors of English education cannot look the other way as you butcher your own content area. Writing well is actually a part of being an accomplished ELA teacher. This doesn’t mean you write literature to submit to the National Board; you submit a good piece of technical writing that answers all the prompts. It means you back up your claims with evidence.

Tip #6— Strive to be clear

Clarity is the rule to worry about most. If an assessor hails from a different state than you, he may not be familiar with some of the terminology or names you use. If a font makes a word look odd, perhaps look for ways to make sure it’s clear. And don’t stress over that or take it too far, please.

Finally, If you find you need more space, you can begin to abbreviate names (Student A becomes SA; Robert becomes R; students could become sts.) 

Besides fonts or unusual terms that aren’t clear, I have seen candidates trying to abbreviate to save space to the point that their paper is distracting.  

For example, one teacher wrote: “12 sts age 9-10. Math Cncpts. CCS.4.1.2 numberlines & plc value.”

What a struggle for an assessor to read 13 pages like this! 

There is a reason we have been taught to write well, and that reason is to communicate.  Although assessors are taught to ignore poor writing and to try to power through difficult papers, they are only human and you are doing yourself a disservice if you use too many distracting abbreviations. If you’ve made the effort with tips 1-4, you will not need to chop up your paper in an awkward way. 

So here is the gist of this post--please try to communicate the answers to your prompts and your evidence to the assessor in a clear, consistent and convincing manner. The best method for saving space is to get rid of sentences that don’t have a purpose and to tighten your writing so each sentence means exactly what you need it to mean with the fewest words and letters possible.

This process is rigorous and causes us to think very deeply. Many revisions is the norm. You’ve got this.

If you need more information about writing for the National Board, we have an entire chapter about it in our book, Mapping Your National Board Journey.

Share This Blog:


Sarah From Wisconsin At 1/19/2021 4:44:49 PM

I read in one of the blogs that we should write as if the assessor has no background knowledge at all. Does that mean that I should explain what thing are and how they are used? For example, if I created a hyperdoc to use with students, should I explain what a hyperdoc is?

Reply by: My National Board for Teachers

They like to know why you made the pedagogical decisions you made, and you may be able to explain hyperdocs (or other choices) in that context. Don't use all your allowed words, but do explain as you answer the prompts.

K. From Mississippi At 2/12/2020 12:40:30 PM

Are we required to write our commentary in 3rd person?

Reply by: My National Board for Teachers

No, not at all.

Becky From Virginia At 4/23/2019 10:29:17 PM

For the written commentary (1 in margins, 11 font) can you condense the spacing? Word document

Reply by: My National Board for Teachers

No. The directions in the General Portfolio instructions specifically say not to manipulate the fonts, and give you specific fonts and font sizes.

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