It is our belief that writing, like reading, develops in stages and over time. Our goal is to have children express themselves through writing with confidence, fluency, and accuracy.
Writing as Self-Expression
Writing is about getting ideas down on paper. The beginning writer may express his or her thoughts with letters that do not seem to make sense to another reader. However, if the author can read back or tell someone what ideas they have put down on paper, then they have “written” something. Oftentimes with pre-readers, we have children dictate their ideas to an adult so that they can focus on organizing a story and are not hindered by the mechanics of spelling and grammar. Offering a variety of approaches to writing reduces student anxiety that they “won’t get it right” and thereby encourages expression, creativity, and joy in being an author and meeting with success.
Basic Elements of Narrative Story
From kindergarten through fifth grade, we help children to critique writing and develop a sense of how a story is organized. We examine the elements of a story, such as setting, characters, problem, and solution. We ask the children to include these in their narrative stories at developmentally appropriate levels. An early writer may describe the setting only as a “big old house.” We would ask a more advanced writer to use adjectives and descriptive phrases to paint a more detailed picture. Our goal is to have the children create stories that are clear, interesting, and fully developed.
Research, Research, Research
An integral piece of project-based learning is research. Small class sizes and lots of group discussions yield many questions and wonderful opportunities to “find out more.” We help children articulate their questions and identify sources for information. The culmination of research for a young student may be a few thoughts or pictures written down on paper or an idea shared orally with classmates. As students progress, they learn how to formulate questions, search for answers, organize the information they collect, and finally to present their analysis to others. Our older students may present their findings in a variety of ways, including formal research papers, power point presentations, or short movies.
“Publishing” Our Writing
We use a “writer’s workshop” model in which the children sit with peers or with a teacher to ensure all the elements of a story are present and appropriately developed. “Publishing” is a time when the child reads his or her completed work to classmates and gets positive feedback. Research reports are often illustrated and posted for the entire community to read. These experiences provide powerful opportunities for children to define themselves as published authors and successful writers.
Handwriting and Grammar Apart from Writing
We do not want to limit a child’s capacity to share information via writing based upon the neatness of her or his handwriting. We use the “Handwriting Without Tears” books to provide children with opportunities to practice proper writing form. These books are introduced at all grade levels and offer an excellent opportunity for children to practice and refine their penmanship.
We teach basic grammatical rules and spelling at developmentally appropriate levels. We do not require accurate spelling on first drafts or informal writing pieces. However, when we are using writing to communicate formally, such as final published books or a research report, we ask the children to ensure that they have used accurate spelling and grammar.