Developing a Bilingual, Culturally-Relevant Writers’ Workshop in the Elementary Grades: Supporting students in discovering their voice as writers
At many schools with a large bilingual population, student’s cultural and linguistic resources must guide instruction in order for children of color to find success in the current educational system. Caroline Sweet and her colleagues at Perez Elementary School in Austin, TX hoped to develop on site a model of writers’ workshop that embraces bilingualism and incorporates students’ cultural backgrounds. They believed that what is developed at Perez can guide other campuses desiring a high-quality bilingual writers’ workshop as a model for developing students’ written expression while simultaneously giving students agency in their learning.
What were the project goals?
The goals of their project, Developing a Bilingual, Culturally-Relevant Writers’ Workshop in the Elementary Grades, fall into three categories.
- Implement a writers’ workshop model in language arts instruction across the campus in Kindergarten through 5th grade.
- As Caroline’s school has a strong dual language program, they needed to merge their dual language program model with the tenets of writers’ workshop to reflect the biliteracy development of their students as readers and writers.
- Caroline also wanted to ensure their students develop a positive self-identity throughout their school experience. To accomplish this goal, they used culturally-relevant literature as mentor texts throughout writers’ workshop.
What was their process to accomplish their goals?
- They consulted with the Heart of Texas Writing Project (HTWP) at the University of Texas to train K-2 teachers on the foundational concepts of writers workshop.
- They partnered with the Austin Independent School District to provide, two full-day professional development sessions to where their consultant from the HTWP and a language arts curriculum specialist from the district trained K-2nd grade teachers on writers’ workshop as this method of teaching was new to most of the teachers in the sessions.
- The trainers of the professional development sessions modeled lesson ands and teachers watched writers’ workshop mini-lessons conducted by their colleagues.
- Caroline co-taught with a first grade teacher for a week long unit.
- Their consultant from the HTWP co-taught with a first grade teacher once a week for 6 weeks.
- Their first grade team members provided peer observations frequently.
What did they accomplish?
- They have helped teachers change their mindset about what is writing through lengthy conversations among colleagues about how letter formation and handwriting is an element of instruction outside of the writers’ workshop. They are working on valuing the production of our emergent writers.
- They celebrated the writing products of their youngest writers with writing displays and held celebratory publishing parties in K-2 in which parents and community members were invited to read students published work
- The built a community that continually supports teachers
- Caroline has planned a full day planning session with their constant from the HTWP.
- Caroline and their consultant from the HTWP have invited all K-5th grade teachers to attend two trainings in which the goal of the trainings is for teachers to create at least a two week unit based on a genre study framework.
- Some of the teachers at Perez Elementary school submitted proposals to present at professional conferences regarding the writers’ workshop methods they are using their classroom. They hoped they will grow many teacher leaders.
- Several of the teachers have been accepted to the Heart of Texas Writers Project Summer Training Program, which is part of the National Writing Project to further their knowledge and training in the teaching of writers.
What are their ideas for improvement?
- Peer Observation: continue more focused peer observations in K-2nd grades that include debriefs to allow for support especially in content focused coaching and utilize explicit protocols that involve pre-conferences, observation, and post conferences
- Evaluation of Student Products: Allow for planning time to continue to create and improve the rubric for K-2nd grades and then create the differentiated rubric for 3rd-5th graders. Further discussion and planning should occur regarding language of choice and building opportunities to create variety in audience choice.
- Buy-in: some teachers were ready and willing to try new ways of teaching based on the training they received. Some teachers had more difficulty understanding the need for writers workshop in their classroom. They would like to create a shared mission to allow students to guide learning and implement responsive teaching practices.
- Planning: More planning time was needed to create units with culturally relevant texts to give students experience in a variety of genres. They are thinking the planning component with culturally-relevant texts might need to occur as part of their professional development days.
- Collaboration with Biliteracy Committee: They will work with the biliteracy committee to add writers’ workshop into the biliteracy framework as an essential pedagogical element in each classroom whether the classroom is a dual language classroom or not. They would like to define how they use language in the writers’ workshop that promotes biliteracy.
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