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Writer’s Workshop transforms students’ learning experiences

March 23, 2016
Imagining, researching, organizing, writing and illustrating

Student writingWhat makes a successful and inspired writer?

To answer that question, strengthen the district’s writing curriculum, and build creativity and strong research skills, elementary students in the South Glens Falls Central School District are taking part in Writer’s Workshop. The program, which has been used in the district for two years, is part of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, which was created to help young people become avid and skilled readers, writers and inquirers. Writer’s Workshop focuses on the writer, not the written piece.

“We [teachers] have a plan to implement for writing now,” said Moreau Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Lyndsey Lange. “We have direction and focus and we are providing our elementary students with a common foundation that they will take with them to middle school.”

On a recent morning at Moreau Elementary School, the fourth graders in Lange’s classroom were discussing the Revolutionary War topics that they are researching and writing about. As part of the Writer’s Workshop process, the students had a mini lesson where they shared the notes they had been taking and helped their teacher write her own paragraph as a model.

Lyndsey Lange teaching a Writer's Workshop lesson.“I like Writer’s Workshop,” said fourth grader Camilla. “It gives me an opportunity to learn something I hadn’t before.” She explained that she is a better writer now because she is learning how to prepare to write by organizing her thoughts and research first. “If I was in a science fair, the things I’ve learned in Writer’s Workshop would help.”

The ability to apply the methods learned in Writer’s Workshop to other projects in any topic is one of the successes that Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Kristine Orr believes is important.

“Being a successful reader and writer is critical to academic success,” she said. “We have seen students make great strides in their writing through the program, and we know students will continue to grow.”

After the mini lesson with students seated on the rug, they move to small groups to write while Lange sits in the back of the room and has conferences with students to discuss their pieces in depth. The process of writing, revising and conferencing are key aspects to the workshop.

A student showing one method for organizing thoughts during Writer's Workshop.

A student showing one method for organizing thoughts during Writer’s Workshop.

“Conferencing with students is no longer telling and showing where mistakes are, but rather guiding students to discover how to make their writing more meaningful,” said Maria Whitney, a third-grade teacher at Harrison Elementary School.

And that meaning is driven by the larger purpose–the idea that thinking, inquiring and creating will help students develop a love of writing.

“The students feel like they are writing for a purpose,” said Tina Hayes, a kindergarten teacher at Tanglewood Elementary School. “Their writing can be like a magical wand used to teach others about what they know, to tell a story and even to learn the art of persuasion. They are discovering that they are authors and illustrators with important stories to tell.”

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