Teachers learn strategies for writing

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Corporate News

Palliser teachers and administrators worked with staff developers from Teachers College at Columbia University on how to develop story ideas.

Ask any of the Palliser Regional Schools staff gathered this day at Central Office to write a “what I did over summer vacation” essay, and chances are it will be riveting reading.

These particular 75 Palliser teachers and school administrators volunteered to spend four days of their summer vacation learning how to more effectively teach their students to write.

The writing workshop, put on by three staff developers from Teachers College at Columbia University, provides educators step-by-step instruction to help students think like writers and develop the necessary skills to become lifelong writers.

Writing doesn’t come naturally, nor do all teachers necessarily come out of university knowing how to teach it.

“Even if you are an English major, like I was, you walk into your first classroom and you go, ‘what do I do?’ ” says Palliser Director of Learning, Cynthia Gietz. “ ‘Where do I start? What stories do I read, and why do I do it?’ It’s pretty daunting.”

The strategy developed by Lucy Calkins, founding director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, is to show teachers how they can basically put on a writer’s workshop for their students each day in class.

The teacher highlights a particular skill writers use and demonstrates that skill in a mini-lesson for the entire class. Students are provided with guided practice before they start using the skills and strategies they’ve learned. During writing time the teacher can provide students with some one-to-one instruction.

Research has shown checking in with students while they are writing – instead of taking all the papers home and giving them the “red feedback type of thing” – is much more effective, says Gietz.

“That way the teacher is well aware of where the student is at with their writing and can determine the next thing they need to work on to become a better writer,” she says. “Hopefully that is not about sentences and capital letters, but more organizing and explaining their thoughts.”

Gietz and another Director of Learning participated in the writing workshop at Columbia University in New York State last year. Palliser also had a sizeable contingent visit an Edmonton school which has followed the Calkins’ philosophy for several years.

Staff were so inspired several Palliser schools implemented the writing workshops on a pilot project basis last year.

“One teacher said ‘I’ve never enjoyed teaching writing as much.’ You would naturally surmise that if you enjoy teaching something, it’s probably going to go well for the students,” says Gietz.

Not everyone registered for the summer workshop teaches Language Arts. One is a science teacher, who wants to be able to use the same language as his colleagues when his students are writing, including lab reports.