A Look at Elementary Writing Initiatives for 2015-16

This academic year, the district has focused on implementing new writing initiatives at the elementary level, and results are already visible on many levels. The new approach to writing utilizes Lucy Calkins’ “The Units of Writing” which is part of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.

Students learn to use writing as a way of offering and supporting opinions, demonstrating understanding of the subjects they are studying, and conveying read and imagined experiences and events. “The Teachers College Units of Study use a workshop approach to writing instruction in ways that accelerate students’ progress toward meeting ambitious new global standards,” said Jennifer Hoffman, curriculum specialist.

The TC Units of Study in Writing align to these standards by providing explicit instruction for the three text classifications listed in the CCLS: narrative, informational and opinion. “The series contains research-based units that are embedded in the content areas as well as in the writing workshop,” Ms. Hoffman said. “Students will devote a significant amount of time and effort to writing, producing numerous pieces over short and extended time frames throughout the year.”

Objectives and experiences are unique to the individual grade levels. Each grade will complete four units of study, including how-to books in kindergarten, small-moment narratives in first grade, science lab reports in second grade, fairy tales adaptations in third grade, historical research in fourth grade and research-based arguments in fifth grade.

Teachers are already seeing progress and powerful writing examples. One fifth-grade teacher said, “I really spent some time looking back at past writing entries with the students and reflecting on progress. There’s a huge improvement from when they began to now.”

Ms. Hoffman agreed that the progress from September until now is already tangible. For example, kindergartners are able to work on narrative pieces for 20 minutes, which shows their enthusiasm and stamina. Fourth-graders created complex fictional characters and are now mapping out the plotline using a story arc. Students see writing as an ongoing process that involves collecting ideas, choosing a topic, planning, drafting, revising, editing and publishing. They are excited to celebrate their published pieces with their peers, students in other grade levels and their families.

Teachers have been working with the TC Units of Study for a few years, but this is the first year formal training has occurred. Ms. Hoffman provides training before each unit of study and support in the individual schools during the unit. Eleven teachers attended a conference taught by Lucy Calkins at Teachers College in September, and other teachers attended the Teachers College Reunion Day, which offered more than 100 sessions on reading and writing.

“The commitment to these trainings shows how West Babylon educators engage in and value their own professional learning and support the learning of colleagues,” Ms. Hoffman said. “The teachers work as a team to take collective responsibility for the high achievement of our widely diverse student population.”