The “Write” Stuff!
Guest blog post by Mindy Dablow
When I think about my own Writing instruction as a teacher who began teaching in the mid-90s, “Writer’s Workshop” immediately comes to mind. The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins was like the Bible of Writing instruction in those days, and established Writing centers in classrooms were commonplace. As teachers, we really focused in on the craft of writing, and making sure our students understood the whole writing process, from pre-writing to publishing.
Fast forward to what Writing instruction looks like in today’s classrooms, and sadly, Writing instruction looks much different in many schools. Due to increased emphasis on standardized testing, somewhere along the way we have lost the joy in teaching students that writers should have a purpose for writing. At our school, Writing instruction had gone from students choosing what they wanted to write about to almost exclusively writing in response to literature. Gone were the days of teaching students to follow the various steps in the Writing process such as peer editing, revising, and publishing. All of a sudden, our focus was on teaching students that Writing is all about reading a long passage and answering questions by supporting their answers with details from the text. Citing evidence from the text became more important than simply writing to communicate a message. Creativity and choice had gone by the wayside, and Writing had become more of a chore than a subject area in which our students could really develop their voice. That being said, our ELA ISTEP scores HAD increased over the years, so that meant we must have been doing something right…right?
When I received a phone call from Rose Tomishima, Elementary Literacy and ELA Specialist for the IDOE, asking if our school would like to partner with the IDOE to provide feedback on the brand new Literacy Framework as well as assist the IDOE in developing Elementary Writing Guidance, we jumped at this opportunity! We were chosen for this work as a result of our strong IREAD3 scores over the last several years as well as a steady increase in ISTEP+ scores. As a school with over 70% free and reduced lunch, we were especially proud of our recent growth and were honored to have been invited to participate in this work.
Rose and other members of her team made monthly visits to CES to observe Writing instruction in classrooms and to meet with teachers and administrators. We definitely welcomed the professional development we received as we had just lengthened our school day and finally were able to provide each grade level with a 45-60 minute Writing Block each day. Through much observation and discussion with our teachers, Rose helped us realize that it is important for our students to understand WHY we write and to be sure we were hitting all of the components of a strong Writing Block. We spent valuable time as a staff reviewing what we knew to be best practice in Writing instruction but had gotten away from over the years as we had developed such a strong focus on writing in response to literature and writing to specific prompts. Through reviewing the importance of incorporating the Writing components of a mini lesson, writing time, conferring, and sharing, we shifted our instructional focus back to teaching our students HOW to write. Rose and her team were a wonderful support system for our teachers and provided us with many ideas and resources to strengthen our instruction in providing students with choice in writing, developing their writing stamina, and helping them set individual writing goals. We also spent significant time on the value of teaching grammar WITHIN our Writing instruction rather than in isolation.
Through videotaped lessons, student work samples, and many pictures of Writing resources our teachers had in place in their classrooms, our partnership with Rose and her team resulted in our school being featured in an IDOE Elementary Writing Guidance presentation in the 2019 Summer Pages to Paradise workshops that were held at various locations throughout the state. The work we did with Rose and her team helped rejuvenate our Writing instruction and to truly enjoy it again. And, when teachers began to really enjoy teaching Writing again, our students learned to love Writing again as well!
I can’t thank Rose enough for the ongoing professional development she provided our teachers with in the area of Writing. I am so proud that our work together was featured in the IDOE Elementary Writing Guidance presentation! You can check out the presentation here! *It will ask you to make a copy, and then you can access the presentation.