The three elementary schools of the Katonah-Lewisboro School District are committed to helping young people develop joyous, purposeful, lifelong literacy. A new partnership with Teachers College Reading and Writing Project is helping teachers implement research-based tools and methods for attaining this goal.
About twenty second graders at Increase Miller Elementary School gather on a classroom carpet, with three teachers and Principal Kerry Ford looking on. All eyes are on a poised young woman at the corner of the carpet.
“Good morning students. My name is Miss Z. I’m here to help your teachers become better teachers so you become better writers.”
Throughout the next forty-five-minutes, Miss Z leads a writing lesson while addressing both the teachers and the students. “Writers, turn to your partner and tell them what you can do to craft and develop your piece. Teachers, here is where we can shift from the teaching point to active engagement.”
This is a glimpse of Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in action at the Katonah-Lewisboro School District. This sought-after program works with scores of schools in New York City and the surrounding suburbs, as well as schools in every state of the country and a large number of international and American schools dotting the globe from Europe to the Far East.
A hallmark of the project is its use of “labsites”—classrooms where a staff developer leads a lesson while other teachers observe and learn the structures, strategies, and expectations of a rigorous writing workshop.
Back on the carpet, Miss Z highlights the how descriptive detail makes stories more interesting and makes the reader feel a certain way. The students eagerly share examples from literature they’ve been reading in class—Cynthia Rylant’s books, including When I was Young in the Mountains.
“Now, see how you can add more detail to your own work.” The students return to their desks, open their Writer’s Folders where their writing is collected, and begin revising.
“Teachers, each take a table and review the children’s progress. Give specific feedback,” directs Miss Z. “We teach them one thing together but coach them individually.”
Katonah Elementary School, Meadow Pond Elementary School and Increase Miller Elementary School will have ten full days each with staff developers from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project this school year.
“The administrators at each elementary school create special schedules for the days when Teachers College consultants visit in order to accommodate grade level teams with blocks of time for discussion, observation and participation in the classroom, and debriefing,” said Cristy Harris, principal of Katonah Elementary School. “Since the professional development takes place on site during the school day, both teachers and students, in kindergarten through fifth grade, are directly and positively impacted by the support of the project.”
“The days at each school are spaced throughout the year so that this mentoring coincides with the different writing units of study—opinion, information, and narrative,” explains Harris. “The units are comprehensive, embedding explicit instruction, the process of generating ideas, drafting, revising, editing and publishing, as well as conventions and grammar. This is all part of our balanced literacy program, which also includes word work, spelling, and handwriting.
After the writing lesson, the students break for lunch. The teachers and Ford head to a separate classroom with Miss Z for further discussion of the lesson.
At this time, all three schools have had at least one visit from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project staff developers. “The program is very powerful,” said Carolann Castellano, principal of Meadow Pond Elementary School.
“The modeling they do with students in the classroom as well as the conversations they facilitate with teachers help us to maintain consistency, high expectations and high quality instruction across the district,” said Castellano. “Our teachers are growing stronger for having worked together under the guidance of these staff developers.”