Lower School Ravens Write with Relevance, Rigor and Resilience

Lower School Ravens Write with Relevance, Rigor and Resilience
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Ruth Thomas, Curriculum Specialist

Lower School writing instruction flourishes with the power of student choice, the application of the writing process and a management system known as Writing Workshop. 


Lower School Ravens love to write! Visit any PreK-Grade 5 classroom when writing instruction is transitioning to another content area, and you will hear how hard it is for them to tear themselves away from it. 

“Please let us keep writing!” Isabella Sotomayor and Hannah Bever, two motivated fourth-grade poets in Mrs. Chalkley’s classroom, said recently. “We have more poems to add to our anthologies!”

“I like to create stories,” said Lila Choudry, a third-grader in Nicole Willis’s class. “My favorite writing is realistic fiction because I can make it funny and I can relate to it.”

How does this joyful partnership of creativity and process happen? 

Beginning in PreK and continuing through fifth grade, students give voice to their thoughts, feelings, knowledge, opinions and imagination through their writing across a variety of genres. In PreK classrooms, for example, four-year-olds engage in telling and “drawing” their first stories, capturing their personal experiences, flexing their imagination and constructing an understanding of the world around them. Fourth-graders will present a “poetry slam” in Winston Library on Friday, Jan. 25, to showcase their second-quarter writing. Meanwhile, fifth-graders are crafting persuasive arguments regarding real-world events. These pieces explore students’ evidenced-based opinions outlining the changes they want to see in the world. 

Lower School writing instruction flourishes with three research-based — and, for students in our classrooms, exciting and fun — features: the power of student choice, the application of the writing process and a management system known as Writing Workshop. Lower School faculty apply these pedagogical techniques with skill and dedication, ensuring developmentally appropriate practices develop with consistency across all grade levels. 

The practice has evolved from the work of Lucy Calkins, a Columbia University faculty member who has spent her professional life researching and unpacking best practices in literacy instruction. The Columbia Reading & Writing Project (TCRWP) provides research and training for the Reading and Writing Workshop, the student-centered, responsive and assessment-based model used in the Lower School. 

In addition to other forms of writing, teachers address three genres — narrative, informational and persuasive — that spiral through each grade level, with lessons building upon and extending beyond the instruction from the previous grade level. Mini-lessons focus on the craft of writing. 

“During mini-lessons, my students become familiar with published authors through our 

exploration of mentor texts,” said kindergarten teacher Laura Coffey. “For example, in a recent mini-lesson,‘The Pigeon Wants a Puppy’ by  Mo Willems introduced my kindergarteners to speech bubbles as a way of adding conversation to narrative writing. Immediately, these young writers incorporated this ‘writing craft move’ into their stories.”

Another important feature is that students choose their content. This gives relevance to grammar and conventions when students have messages they wish to communicate. Small-group and individual conferences allow teachers to differentiate instruction and meet students where they are then “scaffold” the application of new techniques.

“Writing time allows me to conference one-on-one with students,” said Tamara Simpson, who teaches fourth grade. “I can meet each student’s individual needs. Also, students can collaborate with each other and provide specific, constructive feedback.”

“I like it when Ms. Willis calls a small group to the back table to work on exactly what we need to make our stories better,” said third-grader Kinsley Earwood. “Sometimes she gives us examples of her stories. Sometimes she gives us clarification to make our writing better. Sometimes she challenges us to add more to our writing.”

The content of writing workshop also aligns with our Lead from Here initiative. Quarter three units of study exemplify the connection between student-centered instruction and our vision for students who Lead With Self, Lead With Others and Change Our World. 

Lower School writers enjoy writing because thoughtful faculty members work hard to make these child-centered practices seem easy. Enjoy reading some of our students’ work.