April 14, 2017
By Kelli Gile, WVUSD Office of Community Resources
PENCIL & PAPER
Writing workshop helps sharpen students’ skills
WALNUT, CA--Good teaching is paying off at Collegewood Elementary.
Making a commitment to turn classrooms into writing workshops has produced significant results for teachers Therapi Kaplan and Elisabeth Jones.
Two years ago, the educators were determined to find a way to help students become better writers.
That summer, they attended a five-day Teachers College Reading and Writing Institute at Columbia University led by renowned educator Lucy Calkins.
Fourth-grade teacher Kaplan admitted to being nervous when they implemented the rigorous units of study with “fidelity” last year.
“I realized that I just had to trust the process.”
Each four-to-five-week unit is helping students write well about their reading, with classroom structures designed to support inquiry and collaboration.
Kaplan has witnessed a “night and day” difference from the time her students start and finish each unit.
“They improve two-to-three grade levels in their writing. I get the chills just thinking about it!”
The children have been immersed in internalizing the writing process: rehearsal, drafting, writing, revising, and finally publishing.
Each day, they eagerly gather at the carpet area in class for a mini lesson.
After the mentor teachers demonstrate a new writing technique, students practice with partners, and then go off to a quiet place in class to write on their own.
During each 45-minute active writing session, the instructors confer with individuals and small groups while offering feedback as the students craft their writing.
“This differentiated instruction is giving different kids what they need,” added Jones who teaches a 3rd- 4th grade combo class.
“And it’s unlocked the door for writing.”
On April 6, the classes wrapped up a new chapter in their learning with a publishing party to celebrate a batch of literary opinion and compare and contrast essays.
During the showcase, students and teachers from other classes read the papers and offered encouraging comments for the young authors like “amazing story” and “very interesting!”
Ten-year-old Kiara David said classmates were able to choose two short stories for their compare and contrast essays. She selected Birthday Box and Fly Away Home.
“First, we plan it out and figure out our thesis statement and then learn the details of our story. It’s really fun!”
Each essay includes a thesis statement, three paragraphs with supporting evidence, a hook to grab the readers’ interest, and conclusion, David explained.
“When we’re reading, we also have a fresh pad of sticky notes for questions, comments, or emotions,” said Lea Vinculado, age 9.
“We can look at what we wrote and it can help us with our evidence.”
“They may be different books, but they have the same meaning and same theme,” added Katelyn Yu.
Abigail D’Souza likes the chance to use her imagination while writing.
“You can make it so realistic that people have fun connecting with the stories.”
“I’m getting to be a better writer,” offered classmate Meliah Cook.
“Wouldn’t it be fun if we got to write all day?” 4th grader Isaiah Ibarra suggested to his teacher.
During the publishing party, Ibarra shared an essay with first grader Amir Othman.
Afterward Othman said, “I’d give him an ‘A’ if I were a teacher!”
“Your voice and writing matters in the world – you have a lot to say!” Jones told her students while passing out pieces of celebration cake.
Writing workshop topics also include realistic fiction, personal essay, information essay, with poetry capping off the school year in May.
In total, over 100 Walnut Valley USD kindergarten through eighth grade educators currently implement the successful writing workshop program.
“Even if students don’t have a writing workshop teacher next year, they’ll know what it takes. The hope is that they will internalize the process,” Kaplan added.
“I’m so proud of my students and they love it!”
“Now they whine when I tell them to put their pencils away!”
Collegewood Elementary 4th graders share writing workshop essays during publishing party.