Class Turns Pupils Into Writers | Teachers College Columbia University

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Class Turns Pupils Into Writers

Two years into a Teachers College, Columbia University writing workshop program, Van Buren's youngest writers are calling themselves writers.
A teacher participating in a staff development workshop at City Heights Elementary School Wednesday said a student asked the teacher if she was a writer, too.
Nancy Robbins, Van Buren School District elementary curriculum director, said the New York City university’s Reading and Writing Project is offered as a Teachers College staff development project. Robbins said Columbia is considered the No. 1 graduate school for educators.
Robbins said the reading and writing project itself was founded by Lucy Calkins, who is considered to be a leading authority on how to teach writing. Calkins operates an institute comprised of staff developers whom Calkins trained.
“Lucy (Calkins) says it’s about teaching the writer, not the writing,” Robbins said.
Rather than the classic student-teacher dynamic, the relationship is more peer-mentor.
Teachers College staff developer Shana Frazin said she tends to ignore students’ raised hands during workshop sessions, instead asking the child whose work is being critiqued if they can talk, writer-to-writer. Among questions she asks the student-writer are “How do you get that down on paper?” and “What exactly happened?” and “What happened next?”
Frazin said she’s in her fourth year as a staff developer, having previously served 14 years as a math coach. In 2001, she said, she went to Teachers College and fell in love with it.
Two staff developers were at Van Buren schools for three days this week, working with teachers and students. Frazin worked with second- through fourth-graders at City Heights and King elementary schools. Patricia Pinkerton worked with fifth- through ninth-graders at the district’s middle schools and junior highs.
Robbins said Van Buren was among about 50 districts nationwide accepted as an affiliate project school last year. The teachers attend the project’s summer institute to learn Calkins’ teaching techniques, and institute staff developers visit the district, working hands-on with teachers and their students, for about six days each year, Robbins said.
According to an Education Week article, the Teachers College contracted in 1984 to provide the writing workshop project in many New York City public school districts.
Robbins said she expects the staff developers to return this summer, and the district hopes to add a kindergarten through second-grade developer. Eventually, Robbins said, the district hopes to expand the teacher-training program through all its schools.
Including Robbins, nine Van Buren curriculum coaches and teachers participated in the third- and fourth-grade sessions, moving from class-to-class, with debriefing sessions between to discuss the progress of the individual students as well as the teachers.
The article "Class Turns Pupils Into Writers" was published on January 15th in "Times Record Online"

Published Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009