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  • Empowering Students Through Writing

    As a community of learners, we often reflect thoughtfully on the work we do in the classroom. This allows us to learn from one another, to inspire one another and to become better educators.
    In October, our Lower School classroom teachers worked with Stacy Kaczmarek, a consultant for reading and writing instruction, to examine the process of teaching writing in our preschool through fourth-grade classes.
    During her two visits to the school, Stacy presented the "writer's workshop" approach to teaching writing. At its core, the writer's workshop requires that we think about going beyond simply teaching students to write and, rather, give students the skills, confidence and passion to become writers.
    Making the transition from teaching how to write to empowering writers begins with providing students with extensive opportunities to write on topics they care about. In addition, we know that students benefit from explicit and sequenced instruction that helps them progress along a learning continuum. Most important, we know that the greatest growth occurs when teachers provide specific and thoughtful feedback that helps students know what they have done well and the next steps to take to keep growing as writers.

    Doing each of these, and doing them well, requires that we continuously plan, practice, reflect, adjust, and plan again. During this workshop, Stacy and the teachers engaged in this work and had great discussions. They examined the writing process (pre-write, draft, revise, edit, publish, share and celebrate) as well as goals for each age and grade. For example, with our youngest learners, we focus on having students generate a distinct beginning, middle and end. As students grow, they learn to elaborate and use increasingly sophisticated language to make transitions and create a thoughtful, well-organized narrative.
    Our time with Stacy was meaningful both because it reinforced the good work that is taking place in our classrooms and because it got us talking about ways that we can make our program even stronger. In a follow-up survey that I gave the teachers, they wrote about tools they would use immediately—for example, using speech bubbles to add dialogue, writing a story together about a shared experience as a way to practice sharing and seeing our words in writing, and telling a story "across a hand" as a way of organizing ideas in the pre-writing phase.
    This is the first in a series of visits from Stacy, as we dedicate time specifically to the writing curriculum in the Lower School. We look forward her next visit as we continue to engage in this important work for all of the young writers in our community.
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Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a vigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.