Writing Enhances the
Learning Process at Cushing School
If we were to take a look at the time allotments for subjects taught
at the elementary level, language arts would be noted as a subject
area which receives a great deal of instructional time. It is during
this time that reading, writing, spelling, listening, speaking and
grammar skills so essential in all subject areas are taught.
With state testing requirements (MCAS-Massachusetts Comprehensive
Assessment System) and the proposed national testing standards, competency
in basic literacy skills becomes even more essential. Our language
arts program utilizes Silver Burdett Ginn World of Language as the
cornerstone of our literacy program. In addition, we supplement that
program with a wide variety of materials such as Reading Workshop,
Literacy Circles, Recipe for Reading, trade books, Writing Express,
core spelling lists, and Writers’ Workshop to enhance the development
of the wide spectrum of language arts skills.
I’m sure that you agree that all of these sub-categories of
our language arts instruction are keys to success in all subject areas.
In fact, at the elementary level, you often see an interdisciplinary
approach to learning. Essential is the inclusion of reading and writing
skills in all lessons regardless of the primary content area.
How are Writing Skills and Competencies Taught at Cushing School?
Great emphasis is placed on Writers’ Workshop and the use of
the John Collins Writing program in many grades at Cushing School.
In helping us to achieve our goal of developing skillful writers, all
grades devote a portion of their day to Writers’ Workshop and
students in the upper grades utilize the management techniques of the
John Collins Writing program to organize and develop their writing
Why Writers’ Workshop?
The purpose of Writers’ Workshop is to teach and reinforce specific
processes and conventions related to writing. The workshop format allows
our students the opportunity to practice using specific thinking and
reasoning skills while writing.
It is wonderful to walk into a classroom when Writers’ Workshop
is taking place. Often, soft music is being played and students are
engaged and busy at their desks as they assume the roles of authors
and illustrators. The goal of this portion of the school day is to
allow the student to experience writing as a creative and constructive
act. Students are allowed to work on writing projects of their own
choosing. The teacher is a facilitator of knowledge. You would see
our teachers responding to our students as legitimate writers, providing
time to collect information, brainstorming ideas to include in their
writing (often referred to as webbing), and supervising actual writing.
Freedom is given to the student to stop work on one writing project
and commence with another.
At the primary level, you may witness a teacher moving about the room,
touching base with his/her students, possibly providing a key word
for inclusion in the story being created. Parent volunteers are often
present in the classroom during Writers’ Workshop and also support
students during brainstorming and in listing key words for inclusion
in their word boxes.
Walking through a classroom at the intermediate level further focuses
the picture of what takes place during Writers’ Workshop. As
our students become more capable and independent writers, you will
often see them conferring with peers and proofing writing projects.
Parents are still welcome in the classroom often supporting our teachers
as they meet with students for conferencing on their writing projects.
In any classroom, you might see the Writers’ Workshop period
winding down with a sharing of writing projects. Many classrooms have “Author
Chairs” where a student proudly shares his/her writing project
with his/her classmates. This step facilitates the process of legitimate
writing, as the students know that individuals other than the teacher
will read their writing. Comments and questions are welcomed from the
audience. Our young authors and illustrators experience a sense of
What About the Collins Writing Program?
In the upper grades, a term such as focus correction area (FCA) is
often heard during the writing block. This term comes from the Collins
Writing Program and is just one means of managing the writing of our
students. The Collins Writing Program is a model of writing-to-learn/writing-across-the-curriculum
program that defines five types of writing assignments. These are:
Type One - Capture Ideas: This type of writing is analogous to brainstorming.
It is the idea generating, recollecting, data gathering, exploring,
or questioning phase of the writing and thinking process. Type One
Writing is always timed, requires a minimum number of items or lines,
and is completed in one draft.
Type Two - Respond: This type of writing shows that the writer knows
something about a topic or has thought about the topic and is best
used as a quiz. It is a correct answer to a teacher’s prompt
and is completed in one draft.
Type Three - Edit: This type of writing has substantive content and
meets up to three specific standards called Focus Correction Areas.
Writers of Type Three assignments must create a draft, read it aloud,
and review it to see if it meets the following criteria: completes
the assignment, is easy to read, and avoids problems in the Focus Correction
Areas. Revision and editing are done on the draft.
Type Four - Peer Edit: This type of writing is Type Three writing
that has been read aloud and critiqued by another. It requires two
drafts and is the most effective and efficient of all the types at
improving writing skills.
Type Five - Publish: This type of writing can go outside of the classroom
without explanation or qualification. Achieving publishable quality
usually requires multiple drafts, and because of the amount of time
and effort required, such writing is usually considered a major project.
The five types of writing may sound familiar, as the steps defined
by Collins are directly applicable to the Writing Process followed
in our classrooms during Writing Workshop. The focus of the Collins
Program however is Type Four Writing: Peer Editing. This type of writing
provides students with opportunities to draft, edit, and receive feedback
on their work within manageable limits. This type of writing requires
the student to keep a cumulative writing folder, practice oral reading
of his/her writing, focus on specific areas of correction with regard
to the written assignment, and then to practice editing skills on this
writing assignment as well as past papers.
Combining the philosophy of Writers’ Workshop with the management
system of Collins Writing is a natural team. Our students are becoming
effective and talented writers!