Reposted from the Graded Gazette 08/06/2015
On the first day at Graded School, the students’ excitement for a new year of learning was palpable. This time, teachers had the chance to be students as well! As part of a transformative initiative sponsored by the Graded Fund, the Lower School faculty had the unique opportunity to be students again, as they took part in a specialized, intensive, five-day training facilitated by the Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) from Columbia University Teachers College.
Graded is fortunate to bring together a variety of talents in our highly accomplished faculty. We also work hard to ensure that students have equal opportunities to learn with the most advanced, research-based teaching practices. As part of a Language Arts review process, Graded’s Lower School took a bold step forward and enlisted the leading organization in the development of reading and writing instruction — Columbia University Teachers College. Our school is the first in Latin America to do so, and we can now boast a premier program that cultivates excellence in writing across the grades and disciplines.
Graded is no stranger to the Reading and Writing Project. Teachers have attended the summer institutes in New York for years, and have always returned to Graded equipped and energized to improve student writing. The Writing Workshop provides a way for teachers to structure their writing instruction that mimics the way a real author would work, by following the writing process and allowing teachers to provide strategic, consistent feedback to move student writing forward. The Writing Workshop honors students’ interests and experiences and helps to instill a love of writing for life. The Units of Study are grade-level specific resources that provide teachers with developmentally-appropriate instructional plans and tools to ensure student success.
This year, Graded provided the same high-quality training on the writing workshop model to the entire Lower School. Homeroom teachers, Portuguese teachers, English Language Learning teachers, Optimal Learning teachers, teaching assistants, and librarians all participated fully.
The Lower School anchored the Reading and Writing Project with Graded’s curricular standards. By doing this, the complexities of writing instruction were easily absorbed across multiple disciplines, and concepts were reinforced in both English and Portuguese. We can now look forward to increased collaboration between teachers and Support Services faculty for improved differentiation, and teaching assistants will be able to take a more active role during instructional time. With a global, aligned approach, students will not only have more consistent experiences in writing instruction, but their learning will also deepen as they move up through the grades.
Careful planning and coordination between Graded School and Columbia University Teachers College began nearly a year ago. With the support of the Graded Fund, specifically donors who contributed to the Excellence in Teaching fund, a vision for a world-class writing program became a reality. As news of this project spread, so did the excitement among teachers–including incoming faculty. An affiliate relationship with Columbia University ensures that Graded is up-to-date on the latest research and best practices in education, and makes our school a destination for professional development. With this, we will continue to attract the world’s best teachers.
“Units of Study in Writing Training”, as it was called, took place over the span of five days, from July 27 to 31. It involved the concurrent training of three groups: Pre-Primary to Grade 2 teachers, Grade 3 to 5 teachers, teaching assistants and librarians. Three experts were brought in from the US: Rebecca Cronin and Kristin Smith from Columbia University Teachers College, and Erin Kent from Concordia International School Shanghai. They brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to our staff, and emphasized practical, strategic, and meaningful approaches to writing instruction. The training was thoughtfully designed so that teachers would experience the writing workshop as students themselves. Instructional topics included:
- Developing a writing workshop structure to support student success;
- Developing a deeper understanding of the traits of good writing in narrative, informational, and opinion writing;
- Using student-friendly checklists, rubrics, and learning progressions to identify student goals;
- Using diagnostic and formative assessments to plan differentiated instruction;
- Using mentor texts to teach the qualities of good writing.
The training culminated in a celebration of writing, similar to those our students are already familiar with. Teachers read their own pieces, reflected on their experiences as learners, and shared their hopes for students succeeding as powerful authors. Feedback from the training was overwhelmingly positive:
“The training gave me so many tools and teaching strategies to really bring writing to a whole different level in my classroom.” Ms. Christi Chase, 4th Grade Teacher
“What worked well for me is that the trainer showed us how to do it.” Rosana Ramos, 4th and 5th Grade Portuguese Teacher
“Training of this caliber affords teachers the opportunity to learn and grow using research-based best practices. It really shows Graded’s commitment to professional development – one of the reasons why I wanted to be a part of this dynamic community.” Betsy Sutherland, Teaching and Learning Coach
“Now the focus will switch from being teacher assistants to assistant teachers!” Ms. Fernanda Fernandes, Pre-primary Teaching Assistant
We are grateful to our parent community for accepting an adjusted start date this year, in order for this powerful training to take place. With inspired and empowered teachers, improved language skills and a new love for personal expression, students will be ready to achieve individual excellence through writing.