Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Celebration of Writing

I hope you have had the chance to take a look at our classroom blogs ( this month as we have highlighted writing at Seabury. While writing is always an important element our program, we have spent this month focusing on the role of writing in our classes. From prekindergarten and kindergarten students authoring their own books (and in the case of our kindergarteners, starting their own publishing company - left photo) to middle school students creating position papers on global issues as representatives at the Model United Nations, developing strong written communication skills is a key element of Seabury's curriculum. Writing also serves as a perfect example of the myriad ways in which teachers at Seabury differentiate the curriculum, matching instruction and expectations to individual student needs.

Writing serves many purposes at Seabury, just as it will in our students' lives. Students learn from the very beginning that writing is a tool for expressing ideas, telling stories, recording information, and keeping track of what they've learned. They learn writing can be personal or shared with a group. When students have opportunities to share their writing in a variety of ways, they learn that taking time to carefully choose their words and construct their stories will mean that the ideas are more likely to make sense to others. They learn that writing can be formal, such as published stories and final papers, or informal, like notes to oneself and journal entries. And, most importantly, by giving students time and opportunities to write about things they are interested in, they learn that writing can be fun.

Writing at Seabury is also a great example of the ways in which teachers differentiate instruction to meet students' individual needs. At the prekindergarten level, that means that those who are not yet reading or who are still learning how to form letters might draw pictures of their observations in science, make tally marks to gather information, or dictate their stories to a teacher  writing, but not yet putting words on paper by themselves. As they begin to write words, they are encouraged to use inventive spelling, recognizing that we start by getting our ideas down on paper the best way we can, and then we can go back to correct, clarify and add detail. With young gifted students, we frequently find students who have huge stories in their minds, but whose motor skills make it difficult to get it all down on paper, making the prospect of writing daunting. So writing might become a combination of the student writing and the teacher taking dictation. Teachers work with students one on one or in small groups, allowing them to tailor their expectations to the individual readiness of their students.

This is true at all grade levels at Seabury. Teachers might work with the whole group on something they are all ready for, such as how to use more precise, colorful language in their writing, but will then tailor assignments and expectations to the readiness of each student. Working with students individually and in small groups, this could mean that one student might be asked to write sentences using at least one descriptive word in each. For another, it might mean taking a longer piece and working on developing more intricate character descriptions. In elementary grades, students begin to use the computer for some of their writing, making editing and revising something they choose to do rather than are forced to do. By the time students reach middle school, students are writing in all kinds of formats, including blog posts, creative stories for fun, and serious research pieces using the same MLA format they will be using in high school and college. In middle school, just as in all grade levels at Seabury, expectations for students are designed so that they can take the next step on their journeys to becoming strong writers, recognizing all are in different places on those journeys.

The result, as you can see in our teachers' blogs, is that Seabury promotes a culture of students as authors. Seabury is a place where kids of all ages beg for more creative writing time. Where kids of all ages use writing as a tool for expressing themselves. Where academic writing, such as research papers and lab write ups is happening in age appropriate ways at all grade levels, including with our youngest children. Our graduates are consistently recognized in high school for their strong writing skills and ability to communicate clearly. This is truly something to celebrate!

-Sandi Wollum, head of school

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