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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Writing Program Gets Kids on Paper

I hadn't heard about this program (probably because my kids are out of K-8) featured in this Times' article this morning. From the article:

"A new method of teaching writing is making a huge difference in several Seattle schools. Teachers using the Writers Workshop system teach a 10- to 15-minute "mini-lesson" on a single strategy or topic, followed by 30 or 40 minutes of writing, every day. Students choose their own topics. Teachers participate, too, working their way through the process of writing."

Also,

"Writers Workshop is a Columbia University Teachers College program that has been successful in New York schools for decades. Seven Seattle middle schools began using the program last year with the help of Nesholm Family Foundation and Alliance for Education grants.This year, every K-8 and middle school is involved at some level, and the district funded training and materials for four elementary schools. Other schools are participating in training, and there are plans to expand it across the district — a $1.5 million to $2 million expense. "

There are links to several students' writings. You should check out the one by Gabe Braun, a 5th grader at Lowell. It is incredibly broad thinking for a 5th grader.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have a kindergartener in Pathfinder who does writers workshop. I'm divided over the program. While it's great to see the stories she makes, she's being asked to write before she's been taught handwriting. She's pretty good at best-guess spelling, but she's developing really bad handwriting habits since she's practicing something everyday that no one ever taught her how to do. We're trying to reverse them at home, but not making much progress yet.

The kids in her class who don't know their letter sounds are just making stories with pictures. I can't help feeling that time would be better spent learning letter sounds, but since writers workshop only allows for one-on-one teaching, the teacher can't take the time to do that. Each kid only sees the teacher about once a week.

It sounds great for older kids, but making pre-literate kids do writing everyday isn't working out so well.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, but the guess and go spelling and punctuation is the genius of the program. I wish I had learned to write first and edit later . . . as it is, I am finding it difficult to even post this email without second-guessing every choice! Our children are in 1st and 3rd grade, and I've seen a dramatic increase in their confidence, creativity, effort . . .and best of all, desire to write.

Anonymous said...

Pre-literate kids DO write - they start with pictures accompanied by oral explanation, then over time they add letters, approximate words, etc. Giving kids an opportunity to express themselves in "writing" as soon as possible can be incredibly empowering for our youngest students. Spelling and grammar (the "correctness" of writing) are vital, of course, but there is a lot more to learn about writing than conventions - picking an interesting topic, organizing your thinking, using precise words, etc. And typically, the "minilessons" in kindergarten and first grade focus on learning letter sounds, basic punctuation, etc.

Writers workshop is quite freeing for both students and teachers, and gives kids the tools to revise and assess their own writing throughout their school years and beyond. It is much more practical and engaging than the "skill and drill" approach, or a lack of real-world or consistent writing with a giant "report" looming at the end of a term. I am thrilled to see this approach in Seattle schools.

Anonymous said...

My first grader is doing this pilot program and her teacher LOVES it. Her teacher is a 16 year veteran and really wishes she had been doing this all along.

Anonymous said...

My Coe Kindergartner loves this program. It is the first thing they do every day. The stories are 4 to 5 pages long, with space at the top for pictures and lines for the accompanying story at the bottom. We are given dated copies of all of her work so it is amazing to look back at Day 1 (mostly pictures and jumbled letters) to just before the Christmas break (I can read all 5 pages, the story has a beginning, middle, end). Her spelling, use of a variety of words, and punctuation has improved dramatically in 3 short months. As they learn sight words and work on reading during other parts of the day, that comes through in her Writers Workshop efforts. Her spelling is coming along nicely, enhanced by the nightly reading we do and other activities.

Most important to me, it is instilling a love of learning and writing for her. Last week (during Christmas break) she asked if I would make her some Writers Workshop pages so she could write stories and draw pictures for them. She is more inclined toward math/patterns than language so this was wonderful for me to hear.

Most parents in her class and the teachers agree, this is a great program.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Sara Davies...My child went to Salmon Bay where they used writers workshop, and while he did a ton of creative writing which was great, his stories were all over the place, and grammar and punctuation were embarrassing, and not addressed or corrected. He was not taught basic writing skills like who what, where, how, why, and his handwriting was awful. It was interesting because it was all about creative writing, and as long as you wrote you were doing great. Nobody held you accountable for what you wrote or the quality of your writing.

So, in the end, though I was happy to see so much writing, I think a lot of bad habits were developed and ingrained, and I wasn't very pleased.

Anonymous said...

By the way our child was in 6th grade, not elementary, maybe that is why we were so alarmed.

Melissa Westbrook said...

One really great book for this kind of writing prompt is the Chris Van Allsburg book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. It's a book of beautiful and yet odd drawings with a single sentence that can send any kid off into imagining what comes next. We tried it in my son's 5th grade class with great results. (Note: some of the drawings might be too intense for younger kids.) I went to the Chris Van Allsburg website and they are having a Harris Burdick writing contest - deadline is January 15th.

Anonymous said...

English Major: You wrote that "Nobody held you accountable for what you wrote or the quality of your writing" in your child's experience with writers workshop.

This should NOT be the case with the workshop. Self/peer/teacher assessment is a major component of any workshop, and teachers should build in time to meet with every student one-on-one to discuss his/her writing and take note of areas of weakness (as well as strengths).

I don't care what strategies a teacher employs for writing instruction - a lack of self/teacher assessment and REVISION of student work is a real problem. You can't just present a five-minute mini-lesson and expect all the kids to apply the given skill or technique perfectly. If students don't learn how to take a look at their own and others' work critically, as well as rework writing to improve it, they will not learn how to write effectively.

Anonymous said...

My kids go to Lowell, and this is a whole new program. The teachers who have been there for years, LOVE it, and wish they had been doing it all along. It is called "Writer's Workshop", but I don't think it is anything like what they did before at their other schools under that name. This year, in the first 3 months of implementing this program, my kid's writing has improved more than in any other year of school. Don't judge this by the name, it is a whole new thing.

Anonymous said...

Maybe a big part of writers workshop is how the school and/or teacher implements it? Our child's writing not only didn't improve, it got worse, because he knew that it would never get checked, and had the attitude that it really didn't matter. The teacher never sent home any of this writing, so we finally had a meeting with her, and asked to look at his work. It was the quality of writing he was doing in 2nd or 3rd grade, however, he was in 6th grade. We moved him out of that school, into a school that does not use writers workshop, and has a more traditional approach to writing (book reports, writing their own newspaper articles, and some creative writing, and poetry). The difference, I guess, is that his work is graded on quality, not just effort. If he does not use proper grammar, or punctuation, he looses points. His writing has improved tremendously, and his use of conventions has come a long way.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you are right, english major, and it sounds like your child is older than mine are, but I meant that this program just started this year, and I always thought Writer's Workshop was sort of pointless before. In this program, the kids get to write every day, about whatever they want, and then peer and teacher feedback and revisions are a huge part of the program which makes it really effective. Sounds like what your old school did not do this. This program is new this year, though, so if you hear of it in the schools that use it, check it out. As an english major, I think you would like it a lot. I know I do. My kids have improved their writing in the first 3 months of this year, more than ever before.

Anonymous said...

ditto to what jd said. This specific program started this year and my daughter's work is being reviewed by a peer and the teacher. Her teacher went into specifics about it at our parent teacher conference and showed us samples of her writing. She told us the next section they were working on was punctuation/sentence structure. She is in first grade, I'm not sure the difference in upper grades.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like your school is implementing the program well. Mine did not. In a conference with my sons teacher, I asked how she taught or implemented grammar and punctuation into the curriculum, and her reply was that writers workshop focuses only on the creative writing process, and that grammar and punctuation, conventions, sentence structure, etc are just not a focus. When I pointed out things like misspelled words in his final draft, she said that she just doesn't have time to go through each child's story and circle misspelled words, and that spelling is really not a part of writers workshop anyway. I was shocked, really. I wondered at that point if her interpretation of writers workshop was correct, so I contacted the principal who corroborated the teachers interpretation, and reassured us that spelling and grammar are just not a focus in 6th grade. Again, I was shocked. In the end though, it sounds like it was just this schools interpretation of writers workshop. Maybe the district needs to offer more training??? Or, maybe it was just this teacher. Either way, it was an awful year and experience.

Anonymous said...

The Columbia Writer's Workshop is new to SPS and should not be confused with any previous "workshops." Review and revision are part of the process and students develop multiple drafts before publishing.

Our son Dalai Whitehorn (whose poem "Macaroni" is among the writing samples) used to dread writing. Now it's his favorite subject at school, and it is thrilling to watch his progress. (Especially for two lit majors.)

We credit the Columbia Writer's Workshop and his dedicated teacher, who endures far more Disney and Nintendo and Pokemon than most of us could tolerate!

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