The following is an edited release provided by the Fair Haven Schools District:
“When you think you’re done, you’ve just begun.”
That’s the motto of the student Writers’ Workshops at Viola L. Sickles School in Fair Haven.
And while you may have guessed otherwise, Colleen Doogan told a roomful of surprised parents that her blossoming writers actually get excited when they hear this phrase.
“They view it as an invitation to carry on with a process they thoroughly enjoy,” said Doogan, who is in her first year as the district’s K-3 literacy coach. What does a literacy coach do? She provides support for teachers to enhance their reading and writing instruction.
Doogan hosted a Parent Literacy Lab at Sickles on Oct. 9 for parents of students in Kindergarten through fifth grade to demonstrate how Fair Haven schools’ teachers and administrators are set on growing good writers through modeling, engagement and reflection.
“I know it’s hard to do, but when your children tell a story you should try your best to drop everything and really listen,” Doogan told the parents. “Encouraging the telling of good stories is a key to good writing.”
A former first grade teacher who followed her passion to become a reading specialist, Doogan’s resume includes serving as staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University under the leadership of Lucy Calkins. Doogan worked closely with the renowned literacy expert and author, and taught at reading and writing workshops in school districts nationwide.
She described the writer’s workshop at Sickles as “an essential component of a balanced literacy program.”
“The students are learning to develop good writing skills by writing — a lot,” she said. “Even our Kindergarteners are learning the importance of sequence in a story.
“We do what real writers do, because students are motived to write more when they understand that they have an authentic purpose and a real audience.”
Sickles students begin the writing journey in Kindergarten, where they are encouraged to create drawings that tell a story in sequence; and, when they are able, to add words to the drawings.
First graders are provided with writing folders containing papers with space for drawings and sentences. Second and third grade students move on to writer’s notebooks, which they fill with all kinds of writing — storytelling, instructional and historical pieces, to name a few.
When students move on to the fourth through eighth grades at Knollwood School, they further develop their writing skills through a host of instruction and activities.
In the writer’s workshops at Knollwood, students keep writers’ notebooks and publish finished pieces in a variety of genres. These students work on the same types of writing as their Sickles counterparts, but they write with increasing sophistication.
For example, fourth graders create book reviews and personal essays while the eighth graders pen literary essays and “position” papers (bringing together research and persuasive writing).
“The increased availability of digital resources and tools along with the use of Google for Education has allowed some Knollwood students to maintain online notebooks,” said Ellen Spears, the district’s director of Curriculum and Instruction. “Many teachers also encourage students to publish on blogs and also to other authentic audiences.”
As a reward for the completion of all their hard work, Fair Haven students in all grades share their best writing with classmates and parents at yearly events dubbed Writer’s Celebrations.
“All of our students at both schools are being immersed in the writing process,” said Sickles School Principal Cheryl Cuddihy, who compared the experience of learning to write with that of learning to drive.
“You don’t learn to drive by using just the blinker one day and the steering wheel the next,” she said. “You need to experience the car as a whole and improve with practice.”
The parents took part in writing and reflection activities with Doogan and with Literacy Specialist/Kindergarten Teacher Kerry Leahey, and were gifted with writer’s notebooks. But the evening’s best takeaways were the strategies Doogan shared for bringing out the “hidden writer” in every child.
“My wife Danielle and I felt very strongly about learning how to encourage and model good writing,” said Thomas Pantaleo, parent of second-grader Thomas and fourth-grader Lucia. “I thought the workshop was terrific, and I came away with guidelines that will make me a better ‘coach’ for my kids.”
Parent Literacy Lab was the first in a series of events planned during the school year by the Fair Haven Family Institute. The Fair Haven Family Institute was created to provide parents with an inside look at exciting initiatives taking place throughout the school district.
With assistance from the Fair Haven School District Technology Coordinator Pat Young and Technology Support Technician Pauline Clark, the Parent Literacy Lab was live-streamed to a local family that had expressed interest in the event but was unable to attend. The expansion of live-streaming to additional households is planned for the near future.
The Fair Haven Family Institute web page features timely and helpful information including details on upcoming events. It can be found on the school district website at fairhaven.edu.
Upcoming Fair Haven Family Institute presentations include:
• Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC”) on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. in the All Purpose Room at Knollwood School and;
• Google for Education on Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. at Knollwood School.