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K-8 Writing

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The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project is one of the world’s premier providers of professional development in the teaching of writing. Lucy Calkins’s books on teaching writing, including the now-classic The Art of Teaching Writing, are foundational to the field. Thousands of school districts have adopted Units of Study in Writing Grades K-8 as their writing curriculum. Our professional development in writing stretches across the globe, to nations as diverse as Jordan and Sweden, Singapore and India. More than 100,000 educators have attended our institutes in the teaching of writing, and hundreds of people return to these each year.

Our work with writing begins with a commitment to structuring schools so that students have time to write. Students work as professional authors do, cycling through the stages of the writing process and receiving feedback that is essential to growth, and they write, too, as a tool for learning across the curriculum.

During the writing workshop, students are invited to live, work and learn as writers. They observe their lives and the world around them while collecting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing well-crafted narrative and expository texts. Students receive direct instruction in a minilesson, during which the teacher explicitly names a skill proficient writers use that is within reach for most of the class, then demonstrates the skill and provides students with a brief interval of guided practice using it. Students then have time to write, applying the repertoire of skills and strategies they’ve learned, while receiving feedback through one-to-one conferences and small group instruction designed to move them along trajectories of development.

In Writing Pathways Lucy Calkins and her colleagues have developed an assessment system as part of the Units of Study in writing that can be used across a district, school, or classroom. Three intertwined PreK-6 learning progressions, one each in opinion, information, and narrative writing, are at the center of this system. These learning progressions are aligned to the Common Core State Standards and to our knowledge of the teaching of writing. They provide a system to engage in formative assessment, offer high-level actionable feedback, and support student self-assessment aimed at accelerating progress.

Generally, a staff developer will work with a school to support the entire literacy curriculum. As part of this, a staff developer will lead two or three "labsites" during each school visit, at least one of which supports writing instruction. In the writing lab site, a staff developer teaches the students in one teacher’s room so that a half dozen participating teachers can learn the structures, methods and expectations for a rigorous writing workshop. During the first day, a staff developer models the management of a workshop, the architecture of a minilesson, the components of conferences and small group work. By the second day, the staff developer shows teachers how to adapt instruction based on quick assessments of students, and how to tailor teaching plans and methods based on assessment.

Teachers and staff developers function almost as co-researchers, observing what students do as writers, developing and pursuing inquiry questions, imagining how students might work independently and in partnerships, studying and developing a discourse about texts, and planning teaching strategies. Throughout this work, staff developers and teachers work collaboratively to assess students’ growth and to design whole-class and small group teaching based on students’ needs. In addition to this in-class lab site work, a staff developer generally also leads study groups, one aligned to each lab site.

As part of their learning, teachers sometimes do the same writing work that they teach students to do. They collect seed ideas, select one to turn into a piece of writing, then draft, revise, edit and publish their own mentor texts, which they may use during whole-class instruction.

Just as children develop as writers, moving along a continuum from beginner to more sophisticated to advanced, so, too, teachers progress along a continuum of teaching development. Teachers who are new to the work learn first the foundations of writing workshop, while those who have been with us for many years receive more advanced professional development. Meanwhile, we, too, learn alongside our schools, refining and outgrowing our best thinking.

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