In The Blink of an Eye

Zachary Roberts

Last Friday I stopped by a second grade classroom to listen in during an Author’s Party. Students proudly read stories they had written (and illustrated) to parents, grandparents, and friends. Kindergarten buddies looked upon the second graders with the cool admiration that only a child can bestow upon an older child. Over tea and muffins, children and adults cooed, laughed and smiled appreciatively as each student shared a story and answered questions about the choices they made while writing.

We want all Gateway students to develop a great love of reading and writing. But learning to read and write is tricky! The human brain has only been doing this reliably for several thousand years — barely a blink of the eye on the evolutionary timeline. That’s why our program uses different types of instruction that responds to the unique strengths and needs of every student.

In K-2, joyous confidence goes hand-in-hand with mastery of skills. Children learn that their ideas are worth expressing and find an eager audience in our community. In 3rd-5th grades , the focus shifts from learning to read to reading to learn, as students begin to read informational and historical texts. They also participate in literature circles to share their own insights and interpretations about novels and stories, and learn to manage the stages of the writing process. By Middle School, students focus on the development of critical thinking and comprehension, the use of language skills to express understanding across other academic disciplines, and the opportunity to develop written craft in many genres.

This summer we sent a group of faculty to one of the country’s premier professional development trainings for language arts. Hannah Wikse (K), Jennifer Woodruff (1), Rachel Sattinger (2) and Sherri Helvie (Assistant Head) spent a week at Teacher’ College at Columbia University learning about Writer’s Workshop, which we are implementing across grades K-2. The workshop model is incredibly powerful because it treats students as working authors and gives them repeated opportunities to experience the writing process. Student writing is based on meaningful experiences in their own lives, and in the workshop they write often, and for extended periods of time.

Last year our faculty worked together to identify over 40 ways we are teaching reading and writing in the classroom. These strategies are based on our best understanding of how the brain learns literacy skills, such as choral reading (when a group reads outloud together), modeled writing (when a teacher writes live and in the moment narrates her choices about content, diction, and grammar), and using graphic tools to give a “scaffold” for children to organize their ideas. Teachers across all grades weave together varied techniques that give children many ways and chances to learn and practice the skills and ideas in our curriculum.
No wonder that when I walk into a class of middle schoolers transfixed during a read-aloud, or a group of Kindergarten students using EduCreations to create stories in the Discovery Center, I am again reminded of the amazing breadth of teaching practices the faculty use to help our children embrace, master and enjoy reading and writing.