Being a Writer: Curriculum to Build a Community of Writers
Date: October 12, 2015
Summary: Being a Writer is a flexible writing curriculum for grades K–6 based on the writers workshop model. The curriculum is also based on NWP's widely shared principles of literacy and language learning. Originally developed by the Development Studies Center (DSC), Being A Writer is now part of the Center for the Collaborative Classroom (CCC) since DSC's merger with Cornerstone Literacy, Inc. NWP is now partnering with CCC to build and enhance a community of writers.
It's not about the 4-paragraph essay or whatever, it's about students realizing what they have to say, it's about kids really realizing that they are writers and they have stories to tell and their stories have value.
"There are few commercially-available elementary school curricula that really address growth in writing," says Richard Sterling, Director Emeritus of the National Writing Project. "Not just writing as a way to improve reading," he adds, "but writing on its own terms. Being a Writer is one of them. I served as advisor and Trustee for the Developmental Studies Center (DSC), the non-profit organization in Oakland that developed the program for several years, and I am pleased to see this program made available to schools and districts nation-wide."
Being a Writer is a flexible writing curriculum for grades K–6 based on the writers workshop model that works to build a community of writers steeped in rich literature and high-quality trade books that can spark both social and writing development. Being a Writer treats writing as a content area in its own right, not just a handmaiden to other content areas. And its commitment to supporting young writers begins with our youngest students.
For Kelly Stuart, Vice President of Implementation at CCC and also a former elementary school teacher, the idea that students feel like writers within the first week of school plays a significant role in how teachers approach using the program and how they see themselves as writing teachers. "The intent of our author team was to treat students as though they are already writers which is why we named it Being a Writer as opposed to Becoming a Writer."
Being a Writer is built around regular and ample periods of writing with units focused on genre study using high-quality children's literature and trade books. Units are also built around recurring ways of working together in the community of writers: teacher and peer conferences, classroom discussion of writing informed by models, collaborative writing, student self-assessment, and an emphasis on choice. Careful attention to teaching students how to work positively in a community harken back to the DSC's founding by Eric Schaps as a research center concerned with character development, social and emotional learning, and positive youth development in schools and communities.
According to Sue Wilder, a Center for the Collaborative Classroom Regional Director National, "Literacy learning at its best is about more than simply teaching writing and preparing for the test, it's also about how literacy helps us become full and responsible human beings."
Local Site Partnerships
The common interest in workshop models for writing instruction has led to collaborations between districts implementing Being a Writer and local Writing Project sites. Peter Brunn, Vice President of Organizational Learning and Communications at the Center for the Collaborative Classroom, sees this as a natural partnership, where local Writing Project sites become long-term professional development homes for teachers who begin to engage with teaching of writing as their school moves forward with the program. "Writing Project teachers bring a passion and depth of knowledge that can really support a school working with Being a Writer," according to Brunn. "It gives teachers a community."
And in support of NWP's mission, Brunn adds, "Being a Writer gives districts an opportunity to scale quality writing instruction. A lot of teachers come to the National Writing Project and they come to feel a vocation, almost, as teachers of writing, and they give of themselves as teachers and leaders. Our challenge is to provide experiences for teachers who haven't had that yet and are just getting started." Partnerships between districts and schools using Being a Writer and local NWP sites can provide a place for a whole new generation of teachers to work with writing in their classrooms and then take their developing insights and questions to a community of engaged colleagues at the Writing Project.
"At the end of the day, the Being a Writer curriculum is a book," Brunn notes, "and like any book it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's static. A professional learning community provides the nourishment that a teacher needs to go beyond it."
Rhonda Sutton of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writing Project agrees that educators working with Being a Writer will find common ground with writing project work. Speaking on NWP Radio, she said, "There are really three key ideas that people should continue to think about as connections. One is the core belief between Writing Project sites and Being a Writer, which are to provide time for writing; that students choose their writing topic and they're writing for real audiences; and that there is modeling of good writing. In addition to that, I also think that it's important for people to understand, too, that Being a Writer is about giving students the ability to write clearly, creatively, and purposefully for sustained periods of time. And lastly, the instruction of the program supports the development of the writer rather than the writing."
Teacher as Writer
Another connection is in the expectation that teachers have literate lives too. Like NWP, Being a Writer puts a premium on teachers as writers. "When teachers see their students really getting engaged with writing, and produce real work and get excited about it, and complain when the bell rings for recess, it sometimes takes them by surprise. And it makes them really want to reflect on their own experience as a writer and how they might become writers themselves and nurture that voice inside them that was waiting to get out" commented Sue Wilder.
Consistent with NWP core philosophy and the workshop model itself, Being a Writer emphasizes teachers writing along with their students, exploring writing from the inside, and sharing insights as both teacher and fellow writer. Every unit contains ideas for teachers as writers as well as lessons for students. "This is another place where partnerships with local Writing Project sites can benefit teachers in Being a Writer districts," said Brunn.
It's not surprising to find so many synergies between Being a Writer, NWP sites, and professional development work, suggested Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Executive Director of the National Writing Project, as they developed from common roots in research and practice in the teaching of writing. "But more importantly," she added, "both organizations design learning around the potential in every writer and in every teacher to contribute some new knowledge or new perspective in the world through writing. Schools are very much about consuming. But when you shift your gaze toward producing, and think about how to support young people to become creators and makers, you start to see that Being a Writer and the National Writing Project spring from common values as well."