Spencer Community Schools held a joint meeting with the Spencer School Board and the School Improvement Advisory Council (SIAC). After calling the meeting to order, and conducting a few items of business, it was time for representatives from the elementary schools to take the floor and share about new strategies to teach writing through the implementation of Common Core Units of Study in Opinion, Information and Narrative Writing.
Lucas DeWitt, Fairview Elementary Principal, shared that elementary teachers are spending much of their professional development efforts to focus on writing instruction and how best to respond to the individual needs of students through systemic implementation. While all areas of instruction are continually reviewed for improvements and changes, teachers requested to have more emphasis placed on writing instruction during professional development.
Elementary Teacher Leaders are taking the lead to help with the Common Core Writing implementation, and are blending it with the Lucy Calkin’s, Units of Study for Teaching Writing, to ensure all core standards are being met. At each level, Teacher Leaders have familiarized teachers with the expectations and approach to teaching writing in this manner. Additionally, they are coordinating professional development and opportunities for collaborative team meetings with the goal of providing cohesive writing instruction throughout all grade levels, and after one semester of implementation, the benefits are evident.
Kindergarten teachers Debra Wittrock and Alisha Bernardy shared how the implementation of the new writing framework has positively impacted their students. Showing samples of student work, Wittrock demonstrated how students are meeting their goal of seeing themselves as authors.
Moving through different genres of writing, students started the year with Narrative. During this genre, students were asked to tell their story, write it down, add detail and then draw a picture. They have now moved on to the Informative genre. Wittrock uses a “kid-friendly” rubric to help students assess their own work, and pre and post tests are also taken. Proof that the strategies are working was evident by the student samples presented to the board and SIAC, and Wittrock ended by saying, “The students want to write, and they know how to write.”
Brian Sand, second-grade teacher at Fairview Elementary, shared how the new writing strategies have impacted his students. Sand said that students have always been excited to tell about their stories, but it is sometimes hard for them to put the stories into writing. By implementing the new strategies, Sand has seen huge growth in writing skills with his students, and added, “After hearing how the kindergartners are progressing, it will be exciting to see where they will be by the time they get to second grade.”
Writing improvements are present with the students at Lincoln School too, and fifth grade teacher, Abbey Skalla, pointed to professional development as a mechanism of success for utilizing the writing framework. Skalla explained that teachers spend time looking at student writing samples and compare it to a multi-grade rubric to see where the student falls. This has helped them with norming and making sure that there is consistency with grading. Collaboration has been critical to the success, and Skalla added, “When you work with a team to grade writing, it helps to show what is needed or to get advice about what others feel is needed to help the students.”
Teachers are excited about the progression they are seeing at all levels and how students are benefiting and growing in their skills. Other benefits are occurring through the process and teachers really feel that there is a tremendous growth mindset occurring at each grade level. Superintendent, Terry Hemann, remarked that when teachers have a culture of high expectations, the students generally rise to the occasion to meet those expectations, and that is clearly happening.