Faces still flushed from PE, the 5th grade students eagerly raised their hands to sit on the stool and share their writing after they had listened to Michelle’s story. The stories had hooks to draw readers in and used dialogue to show, not tell, the personalities of the characters, and how they react to different situations.
The writing workshop, which just wrapped up in 5th grade, helps students learn to communicate more thoughtfully and effectively. To mark the end of this unit, students shared meaningful parts of their stories with their class. This year, the writing workshop curriculum is being fully implemented in the 3rd-6th curricula.
“Students are taught the writing strategies that authors use and children see in the books they read. They are taught to apply the strategies in their own writing,” 5thgrade Language Arts teacher Colleen Hemingway explained.
In writing workshop, students write daily. Students get to choose what they write about, collaborate and get feedback from peers, and learn how to lift their level of writing.
Students learn to use tools such as dialogue, inner monologue, twin sentences, the heart of the story, seed stories, and bit-by-bit action to make their writing spring to life. They also learn to revise their work and set goals as writers. Within the writing workshop, grammar and vocabulary lessons and activities are also taught.
Tricia Finkenberg, Curriculum and Learning Design Coordinator, is also an advocate of the writing workshop. “Fundamental writing skills are critical as students progress academically and in their careers,” she said, pointing to the number of papers that are required to be written in college.
“The skills they learn transfer across subject areas and prepare them for success in middle school and beyond,“ Ms. Finkenberg said about the workshop.
When asked if the writing workshop had improved her writing, 5th grade student Kate said it had. “I compared what I wrote recently with writing from the beginning of the school year, and my recent writing was much better,” she said.
Pablo, a fellow 5th grader, said that the writing workshop had taught him how to “pull the reader into the action as it is happening.”
With the writing workshop over, the students will now transition to the reading workshop. Students will also participate in the storytelling contest later in the school year.
The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University developed the writing workshop approach. The Reading and Writing Project is considered to be one of the world’s premier providers of professional development in the teaching of writing.
Thanks to donors to the JCDS Fund, Ms. Hemingway was able to attend the Teacher's College Writing Institute with Lucy Caulkins, the program’s founder, at Columbia University in New York City last summer. Ms. Hemingway said she has wanted to attend this conference for 10 years and was finally able to attend this year.