"Eyes on Progressive Education" Blog
A Green Acres School journal that chronicles progressive education in action, the research that supports and informs our practice, and ways in which we live out our mission each and every day.
Developing Joyful Writers
Melissa, 1st Grade Teacher
In the Primary Unit, students participate in daily language arts classes. In these classes, a child “learns to read” by listening, speaking, writing, spelling, and reading. These skills are not separate entities; rather, they are all equally important and crucial to reading acquisition. Some children may love books, but they are reluctant writers, speakers, or spellers. At Green Acres, we help students to realize and appreciate the link among all areas of language arts. One way, for example, is to make writing fun and meaningful for students.
Students in the Primary Unit learn quickly that the main purpose of writing is to communicate with others. In 1st grade, children operate a school-wide post office service very early in the school year. They are responsible for posting incoming mail, selling supplies, and delivering outgoing mail by reading recipients’ names. Of course, 1st graders love to write and mail notes for delivery, as well! Students also grow their language arts skills through the Indian restaurant, letter journals, and Writers’ Workshop. During the Indian restaurant, students write lists, menus, and advertisements. Each homecorner takes turns operating the restaurant by reading and following recipes, inventorying supplies and orders, and providing service to customers. In my homecorner, students write letters back-and-forth with me on a regular basis via a letter journal. Through this process, I can model and instruct language arts skills in an authentic manner. During the second semester, when students are more adept at communicating effectively in the written form, these letter journals are sent home for students and families to communicate with each other. First grade also begins Writers’ Workshop during the second semester. This is a process whereby each student goes through a drafting routine to “publish” non-fiction books by the end of the year. In Ali’s homecorner, for example, students return from winter break with photographs from each year of their lives. They sequence the photographs and make captions for each one, such as, “I was one. I started to walk.” This activity becomes the first edited piece of writing for students. The Writers’ Workshop process includes selecting a topic, brainstorming ideas, writing a first draft, conferencing with a peer and teacher, editing, and revising. Then, a teacher or adult types, prints, and binds the final draft for each student-author to illustrate and share with peers during a read aloud opportunity.
In 2nd grade, students continue the tradition of the family letter journal and Writers’ Workshop. They publish more sophisticated memoirs, begin fictional story writing, and branch out to the larger community by corresponding with students from Ashburton Elementary School as pen pals! In addition, 2nd graders further strengthen their language arts skills by reading, researching, writing, and presenting on topics of special interest. During the insects and shelters units, students selected a type of insect and shelter to learn about and share with peers. During the upcoming oceans unit, children will do the same by choosing a favorite ocean animal. By selecting topics of personal interest and teaching others, students are naturally motivated and driven to utilize their language arts skills in natural ways. It is fun and meaningful for them, and it fosters a continuous love of learning. In fact, a new writing project originated this year solely out of student fascination. After learning about Martin Luther King, Jr., 2nd graders explored other civil rights advocates and wrote biographies about people who each student thought made an important difference in the world (e.g., Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein, Barack Obama, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, etc.). This project resulted from students being so intrigued by the initial subject matter that they wanted to learn more!
Language arts classes in the Primary Unit are student-centered and authentic. As a result, students become confident readers, writers, spellers, listeners, and speakers. Writing is an especially powerful tool for students to utilize in the process of learning, as they explore interests and communicate thoughts and ideas. By learning language skills in meaningful ways, students thrive not only in the Primary Unit program, but well beyond it, too.
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