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Linda Mah
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"Being a Writer" Program Launches

New Writing Program Helps Children Grow

Fourth and fifth graders are using a new writing program designed to help them write better, develop writing stamina, and unlock stronger voices.

The “Being a Writer” series launched in KPS fourth and fifth grades this fall, and will roll out to lower grade levels next year. The implementation of the program is integrated with the unveiling of the new Eureka math program, which is being used by lower grade levels this year and will be added to the upper elementary grades next year.

Angela Justice, district coordinator of English language arts, social studies and library services, said several things appealed to the district about the "Being a Writer" program.

“This program had a strong socio-emotional piece attached to it,” Justice said. “It encouraged listening to peer writing and in doing that providing constructive feedback on how to improve their classmates’ writing. Not only are students receiving feedback, but they’re offering it.

“Also, the title itself indicates to students that they are constantly growing as writers. It doesn’t say you have to be at this level to be a writer but that this helps you grow into being a writer in a way that best fits you.”

El Sol Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Monica Vandenberg participated in the “Being a Writer” pilot last year and is using the program with her students this year.

“This program gives students the opportunity to build on their own thinking,” Vandenberg said. “It does not give a formula to their stories or their ideas. It is truly a program that allows them to write at their level and explore their creative side.”

The major difference between this program and others, she said, is that students are given tremendous freedom to generate ideas, style, voice and pacing.

“The pace of the writing is a huge difference,” she said. “It does not seem rushed and takes time to break down the writing process so students understand how and why certain steps are followed.”

During one visit to her classroom, students are in the revision stage of writing and, on that particular day, focused on spelling.

First, they discuss what proofreading means. This is an example of the socio-emotional part of the program. Students are encouraged to keep all discussions kind, then after thinking about the word for a few seconds, they discuss with each other what proofreading means.

“I would say having students work with their peers enables them to become more confident writers,” Vandenberg said. “Meeting with a peer is less intimidating than conferencing with a teacher. This process allows students to share their work on a daily basis. I like to have them think before they turn to their partners, so they are ready with an idea to discuss and are using time wisely.”

After the discussion, the students then go to their works and circle words that might be misspelled — or words that they know are misspelled. “Swallowed,” “completely,” and “regurgitated” are examples the students identify within their work.

They then talk about commonly misspelled words that are in their workbooks. They also talk about how they might double check their spelling, such as using classroom resources, talking to friends, and checking the dictionary. The next few minutes are spent checking spelling, creating personalized spelling lists in their workbooks, and correcting their rough drafts.

The students explore best writing practices through a variety of genres, such as poetry, information, opinion and narratives, which they explore through “mentor texts” or sample writings. The expectation is that students will write 30 minutes a day.

The mentor texts are extremely valuable, Justice said. The students study the examples of good writing and are expected to model what they read. The readings provide inspiration not only for the first drafts but for the revisions, she said.

“They read the mentor texts and really want to revise so it is at the same level as the text as much as possible,” she said.

The program emphasizes the writing process and the concept that writing is never done, Justice said.

“But what we want the most is for students to know they have a voice,” she said. “Sometimes your voice may not be very big orally, but it may be big through written form. We want to show the students there are various avenues to express themselves. We want students to walk away thinking, ‘I can put my thoughts on paper. My thoughts make sense and express who I am. When someone picks up a piece of paper, they can know me.’”

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