This year in our very large school district, we have purchased a writing program for every elementary teacher to use with their students. You may have heard of Developmental Studies, a non-profit, in California that is 100 percent committed to creating classroom materials that are designed with best-practice research in mind. Our district has had a ‘Writing Workshop’ framework in place for over ten years that has been also based on the work of the great masters in our field (Graves, Atwell, Caulkins, etc.).
However, writing workshop had not taken hold. Yes, there were pockets of teachers, here and there, but there was never a core to collaborate with. We grew our model to include the work of 6 trait language and we began teaching using the language of this model as well. We knew that books were key, that modeling was important and even that building that community of writers trusting each other was also very important, however, we just couldn’t seem to get it done…collectively, until now.
Every elementary teacher has these materials and every teacher now understands that building the writing community is absolutely essential.
Turn and talk is the most familiar language of the program and by the way, students are taught turn and talk from the beginning of the program. Children are taught how to listen to their partners from kindergarten forward. Author’s chair is another key to the success of this workshop.
Model texts are also an extremely important element. Developmental Studies did many field tests with the books at all levels to determine the texts that are used. Teachers will know some of the titles however, some are obscure and wouldn’t be books that wo that I would have selected necessarily chosen to read aloud in my classroom. But, they really work with the students. They are selected for the element of craft that they mentoring.
Usually the lesson takes on a familiar format. A teacher reads a bit from the book. Questions are asked, pairs confer and then there in a short time where the class discusses together and then of course, the independent writing begins. Last week we were at the part in the lesson where the students were sharing out about the mentor text. The first 4th grader shared. The second was called on. She interjected, “In addition to what Nancy said, I feel….”. I was shocked and amazed at her language which had been taught and reinforced in the prior unit, “In addition to”.
Both Stacey ( my partner) and I looked at each other and smiled. They were using what we had taught in Unit 1. Writing is contagious…writing communities are contagious.
Look out world, here we come!
It felt magical to us.
This program, based on research, stands on the shoulders of great teachers of writing. We are embracing the structure and the materials provided, a program that unites us and moves us forward as “teachers of writers, not just the writing”.