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Embracing Teacher-Directed Professional Learning

Terri Howell, Mary Spring

Not all of our writing groups are focused on studying a book; our topics are as varied as we are. We attempt to meet the group’s needs, respecting the fact that not everyone went to New York City. For example, one focus of the Columbia University writer’s workshop is conferencing with children about their writing — one on one or in small guided groups — and how to recognize quickly what students can do to improve their writing. We brought this new skill back to our study group by having each teacher bring a sample of student work, especially from students who were puzzling to them or who weren’t progressing as they thought they should. We have also spent meetings watching videos and sharing books and techniques used by Calkins and her staff developers, who are engaged in perfecting the art of the student conference to improve writing. At other meetings, we have each brought a mentor text and explained how the text could be used in a mini lesson to teach a specific writing skill, and how to connect reading and writing within the literacy block.

In addition to the travel to New York City, the TLLP grant has given our group two other great benefits: we have purchased writing resources, such as mentor texts and books by Calkins and her staff developers; and we have been able to meet as grade teams to plan a year of writing that fits with our board and school goals and our new learning.

The TLLP grant comes with a few stipulations, including the collection of data. We did a pre and post teacher survey in October 2008 and May 2009, and found that there was a 30 percent increase in teachers who said they explicitly teach writing. As well, 49 percent more teachers use mentor texts to teach writing and 26 percent more use student conferencing. Based on that data, two areas of focus for this year are guided writing and working talk time into the writers’ workshop before independent work begins.

Changing students’ attitudes toward writing was a major goal, and our student surveys in October 2008 and May 2009 showed students in kindergarten to grade 3 grew in all areas, including seeing themselves as good writers (15 percent increase). More of them enjoy writing both at school (8 percent increase) and at home (15 percent increase), and more share their writing with others. However, we noted that there is still work to be done on changing attitudes, and this realization helped us prioritize our planning for the next year. It is worth noting that as students move from Primary to Junior grades their attitudes are changing:

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