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Maeve Bremner’s first grade classroom doubled as a literacy lab one morning recently.
First graders gathered on the carpet in front of Brittany Nosito, a staff developer from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCWRP).
Increase Miller’s first grade teachers sat in a half-circle around them, listening and watching, along with Alison Porcelli, Katonah-Lewisboro's Staff Developer who works with elementary schools, and Principal Kerry Ford.
“First graders—you started to write stories yesterday,” Nosito said, encouragingly. “Some of you are writing about a visit to the park or grocery story. I know others are writing about scraping your knees or feeding your pets.”
“Writers, put your thumb on your knee if you have an idea for your story,” Nosito said to the students.
“Teachers—this is a good silent way to involve students,” she continued, without taking her eyes off of the learners.
“Writers, tell your story to the person next to you,” directed Nosito. “Teachers—the better children are able to tell a story the better they will be able to write it.”
This was Increase Miller Elementary School's first meeting with a Teachers College staff developer this year. All elementary school classroom teachers, grouped by school and by grade, will have five meetings between October and June. The visits include the staff developer modeling the structures, methods and expectations of a rigorous writing workshop for a group of watching teachers. After each in-class session, the staff developer leads a study group for the teachers in which they design whole-class and small group teaching based on students’ needs.
"TCRWP’s workshop approach to teaching writing empowers students to work with independence and agency and creates a community of writers," said Porcelli. "Similarly, TCRWP’s staff development model encourages a professional learning community, as teachers learn and try out various teaching methods alongside one another in a labsite classroom and have opportunities to receive and give one another feedback on the spot."
This is the third year that Katonah-Lewisboro is partnering with Teachers College. The partnership extends to the middle school this year. Teachers and administrators will also hone their work as literacy leaders through small group sessions, conferences, and workshops.
“Off you go,” said Nosito. “Go to your table and start drawing and writing your story.” Her tone was cheery, conveying that she had complete confidence that every child in the class would think of a story to write, draw that story across the pages of a book, and then write the story, too.
The children each had a three-page booklet and pencil at their table. Some wrote words. Many drew their stories.
Teachers watched Nosito have a brief conference with a student, then fanned out across the class to have their own. “Read me what you’ve written,” followed by “tell me more,” and, after some appreciative listing, “You should definitely add that,” were heard at each table.
When one child did not want to write, Nosito had a mini coaching conference with the student on the carpet. The teachers watched and learned as she tried various engagement strategies.
Nosito gathered the children back on the carpet. Each held their book.
“It’s a book factory in here!” she congratulated them.
“Writers of books take time to plan how their pages will go,” Nosito reviewed with them. “Put your thumb on your knee if your story is three pages. Touch your head if your story has a beginning, what happened next, and an ending. Touch your pages and tell yourself the story. This is what writers do."