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Room 209, on the second floor of Katonah Elementary School (KES), seems silent until you listen carefully. Underlying the swish-swish of the louvered window shades and the intermittent tinkling of wind chimes is the soft, steady sound of pencils writing on paper.
One student is busy recounting her first bake sale. Another is engrossed in describing the last time she saw her goldfish. The one writing the fastest is chronicling the time his dad let him drive the car.
This is the daily writers workshop in Ms. Wolken’s fifth grade, a protected time that emphasizes a high volume of writing to achieve greater proficiency.
“Writers need to build up stamina, just like readers,” said Ms. Wolken.
Daily writing time is one of the cornerstones of the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project (TCRWP), the landmark literacy program that KLSD elementary schools are continuing to partner with for the second year.
“The elementary schools teach three types of writing: narrative, informational, and opinion,” said Cristy Harris, Principal of KES. “All elementary school students have started the unit on narrative writing - crafting true stories. Even the kindergarteners participate in writer's workshops. They draw their stories.”
KLSD’s elementary school teachers received professional development from TCRWP over the course of last year on teaching strategies for planning, drafting, and revising different types of text.
Increase Miller Elementary, Katonah Elementary, and Meadow Pond Elementary Schools are also Teachers College Project Schools. Each grade will have five visits from a Teachers College Staff Developer who will lead a writing lesson as teachers grouped by grade level observe as well as participate. This is followed by conversation about various strategies and instructional approaches.
The writer’s notebook is at the very heart of TCRWP writing workshops. It’s where the students capture ideas to be developed. It allows students to play around with multiple ideas and choose what they are most interested in writing about.
Before the children started writing, Ms. Wolken led them through a mini-lesson on how to generate ideas.
“Grab your writers’ notebooks and meet me on the carpet,” she said. “Bring a pencil!”
“Think of a person who matters to you, or a small moment that means something to you,” said Ms. Wolken. “Jot these names and memories in your writer’s notebook so when it comes time to write, you will have story material.”
“A good way to jump start these ideas is to think about first times and last times you did something or met someone,” she continued. “What are you thinking about? Turn and tell your neighbor.”
After a moment, Ms. Wolken asked if anyone wanted to share their idea with the class. Hands shot up.
“The first and last time I made slime,” said one student.
Another said, “The first time I saw Bubba Cat.”
“Your animal idea gave me a thought,” contributed another student. “I remember the time I looked after my friend’s pet caterpillar.”
“Now, go anywhere in classroom, open up your notebook, and write down your ideas,” said Ms. Wolken.
Students are encouraged to use checklists so they can assess their own work, and move independently through the writing process.
Movement is also incorporated -- students move from whole class to small group, and lessons integrate speaking as well as writing.
“The children’s writing will be sent home at the end of each unit, accompanied by a letter explaining the objective of the piece,” said Mrs. Harris.
“The focus is on the student’s growth,” said Mrs. Castellano. “Writing will be celebrated and shared throughout the year in a variety of ways.”
"Children’s attitudes towards writing are very positive,” said Mrs. Ford.
Learn more about TCRWP at Curriculum Night.
GRADES K - 2: Wednesday, September 28, 7 PM at Increase Miller Elementary, Katonah Elementary, and Meadow Pond Elementary Schools
GRADES 3 - 5: Thursday, September 29, 7 PM at Increase Miller Elementary, Katonah Elementary, and Meadow Pond Elementary Schools