How to strengthen your writing skills – A writer's workshop at SISD | SISD
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Oct 01, 2019

How to strengthen your writing skills – A writer’s workshop at SISD


Between September 15 and 19, Amber Birch Trujillo from Erin Kent Consulting worked with teachers and students from KG2 – Grade 5 on strengthening writing skills through the structure of Writer’s Workshop.

 

Each teacher from KG2 to Grade 5 had the opportunity to participate in focused workshops.

In addition, our teachers attended Learning Labs – model lessons, that allowed them to develop professionally and contribute to making improvements in writing across the school and across all languages.

 

Mrs. Shona Gastaldi, our PYP Coordinator, was excited for the opportunity for students and teachers alike to grow as learners. “Teachers were able to learn and implement new strategies to become teachers of Writer’s Workshop – an approach to writing that has been successful at an international level. We were able to identify the value in students going through the writing process as an author would and learn how to implement this structure for bilingual learners.”

To get an idea of how the workshop benefited our community, we interviewed Amber and asked her about her week at SISD.

 What did you think of our students?

The SISD students are highly capable, excited, very willing. They were risk-takers. They were not afraid to try new things and this is something to celebrate. 

What did you focus on during these workshops?

Our focus was on the writing process, different strategies you can use depending on what kind of writing you are doing and on how to you choose an idea.  We focused on the ability to believe in yourself and choose topics for yourself and write about topics you are passionate about. 

Younger writers are able to go through the writing process – idea generation, planning, writing, revising, and editing quicker whereas our more sophisticated writers focused on developing ideas before drafting.

As writers are work, teachers meet the needs of individual and small groups by teaching writers during independent writing time.

What do you hope they have learned from this workshop?

I hope it inspired them to be good writers and that they have learned to love writing. 

Our goal is that they learn to be passionate about it. We want them to learn how to write like a writer and think like a writer, learn how writers work, be in charge of their writing and feel empowered, have agency over writing. 

What about the ability to write in two or more languages? 

Students may not naturally be aware of what is happening in their brains as they are learning in two languages. They need support from educators to help make these connections from one language to the other to become strong bilingual writers.

 However, what we discovered this week is that the process of writing is not very different from one language to the other. If we break it down to different components we have the below similar process :

  1. The writing process is the same in any language 
  2. The structures of different kinds of writing (narrative writing, fiction writing etc.) are the same. 
  3. The development, the ways writers improve their writing are the same.

The main differences are conventions (the way the language functions). How you capitalize in German for example,  and all these unique things about language but also the actual expectations of the French curriculum and the German curriculum.  There are certain things that are unique to each Curriculum and so I think that what we try to do with teachers and then teachers try to do with students is to start noticing what is the same and what is different and build on their capacities. For example “I know that in English I only capitalize the beginning of the word and proper nouns but in German I capitalize every noun”. Punctuation of dialogue is also different, and more complex. We need to help kids make these connections.

 

You introduced the concept of mini-lessons. What are they?

A mini-lesson is a focused type of teaching that is targeted and brief, where teachers often model what is expected for any specific kind of writing or writing skill. We will often give writers multiple strategies to try out so they are in charge of their own choices.

How did our students do?

In Grade 2, the students started writing a non-fiction book and the lesson itself was on planning (what are the different parts of my book?) and then they started writing, so the actual objective was to plan through their writing, and have it organized. 

One student did that, but then he started drawing and added a bubble, he wrote “fun fact” in it, a very fancy craft move that writers actually do, he just did it naturally. 

Kids naturally want to express themselves when we give them the opportunity. We can use what this student did and teach that to the entire class. That honors him as a writer, and it shows that we are a community that learns from each other.

You introduced the concept of conferring, what is it? 

That’s when you are working individually with one student and you always compliment them on something they did well and also teach them something. This idea is really linked to personalization which you are already practicing in your school and teachers felt a strong connection to what they have already been doing here.

We actually had a very powerful moment during our Grade 4 workshop. We were inquiring into historical fiction and the students had to write about Vikings. There was this little girl, when it was time to share, she didn’t share much, she went back to her seat and I noticed that she had made a web on her paper, she obviously knew a lot of things about Vikings. So I sat down with her and I was conferring to her, I asked “So, who do you think your character could be?” and what she said was just beautiful.

“Maybe..a little girl named Spice with flaming red hair, amber eyes and a great spirit. 

She doesn’t have a sibling, no mother, only her father and an eagle as a pet.”

The creative piece behind what she said was very powerful she took it well beyond what was expected, she already had a story in her head, and we had only been writing for 10 minutes!

 

What did you explore during the afternoon workshops?

In the afternoons we did some workshops on more conventional writing. With KG2 students we looked at phonics and with the Grade 3-6 students we looked at an approach to learning called “Patterns of Power” it’s an inquiry-based method for discovering patterns in grammar. 

That really helped show that grammar can be taught in a manner that is inquiry-based, it can be exciting and it doesn’t have to take that much time. 

We had a beautiful moment during that workshop. Teachers had to do their own model sentences, we were expecting to have at least 4 languages (French, English, German and Arabic) but we had so many more! 

I have never been in a place where we had so many languages! I thought that this is something really special,  the idea of honoring language and how language is personal and beautiful.

 

What tips you would give to a child who enjoys writing and wants to improve?

  1. Write about what you love.
  2. The more you write the better you get at writing. We say, “writers learn to write by writing.” 
  3. Always revise and add more. Add pictures, more words, findings from your research, perhaps a famous quote. You always have more to say!
  4. Make your writing easy to read. If people can’t read your writing, if your grammar is not correct, then your words are not as powerful. 

Writing can be an intimidating prospect if you don’t know how to get into it. This is a truth for both children and adults. Amber’s workshops gave everyone the opportunity to learn how to improve, and everyone walked away with new skills to develop.

Mrs. Gastaldi looks forward to a future crop of writers coming out of SISD, from all parts of the community. “Now that we have finished a week of training our goal is to ‘develop multilingual, confident, accurate writers who love to write. As a community we are excited to see our students and teachers achieve this goal together.”