Developing the drive for effective communication and the ability to connect literacy with areas of passion.
Recap: What's the Why?
Our faculty work to prepare students not only with excellent academic skills, but also with the so-called "soft skills" that research shows are key to success in any job market. From clear communication to follow-through, research suggests that these soft skills may be even more important than academic success.
The final area we will look at in this series is how the Lower School writing curriculum both fosters a joy in communication and helps students to tap into the drive that is necessary to finish a project.
Kindergartners in the earliest stages of becoming communicators via the written word.
The Goal: Developing Communicators
“Write six sentences that contain at least four adjectives, an adverb, and have proper spelling and punctuation.”
Does this sound familiar?
How about boring?
Elementary level teachers across the nation express frustration over the difficulty of inspiring kids to write...and write well.
“Minnehaha graduates should be excellent communicators,” says Julie Winn, Curriculum and Instructional Specialist, “who have gone through the discipline of sorting through their own belief systems, developing well reasoned perspectives, and who are also able to effectively express them in ways that are persuasive and designed for the intended audience—that is the definition of impactful communication.”
The Method: Writer's Workshop
To that end, in 2017 Minnehaha Academy implemented a writer’s workshop approach to their literacy program.
Students immerse themselves in a variety of genres, analyzing texts and determining key characteristics. They then try their hand at writing in that genre. Over time, they develop a sense of who the audience might be for a given genre, and how to express their ideas well using that form.
Instead of giving students a prescribed set of writing prompts, teachers invite them to generate and explore their own ideas.
Within that student-created writing, teachers work with students on spelling, grammar, and other good writing practices.
Students better internalize the lessons because the information is connected to something matters to them.
The highlight of the program was last year’s Writing Celebration, when students’ work was displayed around the school and parents came to read and offer feedback on the work.
Students reading each other's work during the Writing Celebration, the culmination of the Writer's Workshop.
Case Study: The Reluctant Writer
Does this new approach to teaching literacy work? Yes, on a number of fronts.
When Winn first started the early versions of this teaching format in her own classroom she worked with a fourth grade boy who, by the end of the first unit, only managed to create two sentences for his final piece.
As they worked together, the student improved in technical ability and drive for excellence.
By the beginning of fifth grade the same student wrote a 5,000 word novel—without complaint.
Because the writer's workshop format connects writing to things students already care about, faculty tap into their natural drive to communicate. As students see both what they can accomplish and how their work is received by others, they become more excited to find ways to better communicate, encouraging a positive cycle of drive and output.
Not every student is called to be a writer, but we do want students to become solid communicators who can clearly articulate their beliefs, vision, and passion.