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Writing program generates excitement in B'ville schools

Ziegler, who teaches first grade at Van Buren Elementary School, said one of the best aspects of the writing program is that students begin it identified as writers, not students working to become writers.

"They're called writers from the time they walk into the classroom in kindergarten," she said.

With the program, even students who haven't learned to print, spell or read can write with pictures they create to tell a story. From kindergarten on, students learn the importance of showing with their writing, rather than telling. As their confidence in their writing skills grows, they become more independent as writers.

Parents have been questioning teachers about grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes their children are making, and they wonder why the program is not particularly emphasizing these aspects of writing, especially with the younger students. Natalie Thompson, a fourth-grade teacher at Reynolds Elementary School, explained that with the program students use their higher-level skills to write and they are working on their quality of writing, rather than the mechanics of writing. She notes that these skills do come into play later.

The program also teaches students editing strategies they can use, even with pictures. As they learn the elements of good writing and the revision process, students are feeling confident enough in their own writing skills to critique published writers' works. By identifying what elements in a published story or novel make it a good piece of writing, students reinforce their writing strategies and skills.

Another important aspect of the writing program is students choose their writing subjects. They bring their own ideas to create their works. Writers write best, and with enthusiasm, when they write about what they know. Christie Brooks, who teaches fifth-grade at Elden Elementary School, said, "There are no more 'what I did over summer vacation' essays unless that's what a student wants to write about."

The district is tracking the success of the writing program through student performance on the state assessments and informally through teacher feedback. Many staff members are noticing that students' reading and comprehension skills are increasing along with their use of writing strategies.

Student excitement for writing continues to grow as the year progresses. Karen Ernst summed it up best. "Kids love to write."

Teacher Christie Brooks leads her fifth-grade writers at Elden Elementary School in a discussion about realistic fiction.

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