Writing is flourishing at Beecher Road School through the implementation of Writer’s Workshop. The District’s goal is to help students become independent writers, readers and thinkers. To support this initiative, Beecher Road School has established a partnership with the Writer’s Institute at Columbia University. Teachers at BRS receive on-site training from Columbia consultants and participate in summer writing institutes. The results show. The quality of student writing has improved while love for writing has increased among students.
Writer’s Workshop is an approach to the art of writing, rather than a formulaic program. It is child-centered, so that the student finds value in his ideas, success in his writing and enrichment in his life.
The poet, Robert Frost said, “Writing starts with a lump in the throat.”
Writer’s Workshop teaches our children that their lives matter. They all have stories to tell, feelings to share, and claims to make. Multiple genres are explored throughout the year. These may include Small Moment Stories, Personal Narratives, Informational Writing, Realistic Fiction, Opinion Writing and Poetry.
Writing happens across the grade levels and across the content areas. Thereby, it is an interdisciplinary technique which builds fluency and exposure to the writing process.
Writer’s Workshop allows students to stretch their writing “muscles”. A daily opportunity to write builds stamina and a belief in the process. Regular feedback from teachers and peers builds confidence and an ongoing study of mentor texts bridges the reading/writing connection
How is it different from how writing has been taught before?
In the past, the writing program has been more teacher-directed and less child-centered. It is essential to give students some choice in what they write about. So if we first help to find topics that excite them, they will be more invested in the challenging writing process.
The process is a cyclical one. The concrete steps and strategies provided in one genre lay the groundwork for the next unit of study. The steps of this cycle include: Collecting or Generating Entries; Developing the Seed Idea or Story; Drafting; Revision; Editing; Publication and Celebration.
The Units of Study for primary and intermediate grades arose out of over a decade of in-school research and practice that was spearheaded by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. Schools, like Beecher, that work with the Project join with professional Teachers College educators in a continuing study of the art of teaching writing. Together they study the techniques of master writers, they study the individual students in a teacher’s classroom, and together they create a curriculum to lift the level of students’ writing. The writing workshop model that evolved from this process is the foundation for Units of Study and Beecher’s approach to teaching writing. Its theory of teaching is based upon fostering independent writers and life-long learners. It is our belief that there is not a single string of sequenced lessons that applies to every possible classroom. The lessons must be responsive to the individual needs of the writers in each class. However, we do believe in strong models of excellent instruction for teachers—Writer’s Workshop is just such a model.
Component's of a Writers Workshop
The mini-lesson offers students direct instruction on an explicit strategy for writing. The specific strategies for each day are selected by teachers based upon what their assessments have revealed about their students. During the mini-lesson, students are asked first to observe a demonstration of the strategy, and then they are asked to try a bit of that strategy right there during the lesson. This is a quick, guided practice for students in which they can receive immediate feedback from both their classmates and their teacher. The mini-lesson is short, usually around ten minutes long. There are fundamental traits of all good writing and students write well when they learn to apply these traits.
Students then move into their independent writing time which constitutes the bulk of time in the writing
workshop. Students independently practice the strategies for writing they have learned in writing workshop. During this time, the teacher meets individually with students for a writing conference or meets with three to four students for small group work. Conferences and small group work provide students with individualized instruction based upon each student’s need. Students receive both direct instruction and guided practice time during these sessions. To write well, writers need ample time to write about meaningful topics every day.
The share session at the end of the workshop provides students with an opportunity to share and support work in progress. Students may share their writing with a partner or small group and get feedback on a question or technique. The teacher may use some of the share time to teach an additional lesson that further develops the strategy introduced during the mini-lesson. The class may come together to look at a piece of writing from a professional writer and read it together to gather ideas for what they themselves might try in their own pieces. The share session is a time for writers to come together to share their work, explore possibilities, and make plans for what they will do next with their writing.
Writing and reading are joined processes, and students learn best when writing and reading instruction are coordinated. Ongoing, built-in book study provides exemplary texts on which students model their own writing. In reading, students learn to make meaning from published authors’ writing; in writing, students learn to write so as to convey meaning to their readers.
The Writer’s Workshop approach builds more independent readers and writers through a rigorous, highly organized curriculum. We are also raising the bar by asking students to work in progressive, more complex ways.
Writer’s Workshop is a pivotal part of the curriculum. The components are well aligned with all the major initiatives at BRS including Responsive Classroom and Professional Learning Communities.
BRS is helping to create life-long learners through Writer’s Workshop.
To read more about Writer's Workshop visit the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, located at Teachers College, Columbia University website.