Workshop hones young writing skills
10/9/12 6th grader Margaret Woodburn works on her personal writing technique at Skokie School in Winnetka on Thursday afternoon. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 19, 2012 1:04PM
WINNETKA — Beginning in 2008, the district began investigating the Columbia University Teachers College Reading & Writing Project, which had already been used in classrooms by a few district 36 teachers.
After several staff members, including The Skokie School Assistant Principal Alison Hawley, visited a Columbia University workshop in 2009, the district was convinced of the program’s effectiveness.
“It was happening in many classrooms across the district, but there were varying degrees of implementation,” Hawley said. “We were thinking how we can make this consistent and cohesive across the district.”
After being adopted by the school board for the 2010-11 school year, students from kindergarten through eighth grade began their writer’s workshop activities under a formal program during their class time.
As kindergartners, the students began with oral storytelling and creating pictures. As they progress through the district the students become more independent and produce longer, more detailed works.
“They may write narratives in third, fourth and fifth grade, but it increases in terms of their skills,” Hawley said.
District 36 has sent teachers to New York over summer breaks to learn directly from Columbia University. The district has even hosted university staff at their Winnetka schools to hold workshops with teachers and parents.
“It’s about letting kids know everybody has a story to tell and everybody has a wealth of experience to draw on when they are writing,” Hawley said. “They carry a lot with them already. Teachers begin by tapping into that.”
The program has been supported by the Winnetka Public Schools Foundation and has received generally positive feedback from students and staff.
In addition to making students, “more flexible and fluid writers,” the writer’s workshop aims to increase the volume that students write over time as they advance further with their education.
“Some of us who have been out of school a long time are used to being assigned a five paragraph essay,” Hawley said. “When you get to college and have to write a 20-page paper (that format) doesn’t really work. We want to teach skills that are transferable and lifelong. Our goal is that they continue to build those skills.”