Teachers College Reading and Writing Project

Adopted at the J.F.K. Elementary School and the C.V. Starr Intermediate School

After careful review and feedback from teachers, Brewster joined the Teachers College (at Columbia University) Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP), which has an international and national network of educators who participate in this research based literacy project as their source of the professional learning. Almost three decades ago, Dr. Lucy Calkins, the founding director of the TCRWP, laid the foundation for this approach to literacy instruction and learning. Our K-5 educators will be working with a TCRWP trainer to implement the components of the reading and writing workshop. Each teacher who teaches English Language Arts has received the reading curriculum and the writing curriculum. Teachers participated in professional learning this summer in the district as well as at Teachers College, Columbia University. Two TCRWP trainers will visit the district throughout the year to work alongside teachers in a lab like setting to model what occurs in the reading and the writing workshop and help teachers to implement the curriculum. Teachers will administer the Fountas and Pinnell Reading Benchmark Assessment to determine a child’s independent reading level and instructional level so that children are selecting and reading books at their level. This reading assessment system is based upon the Fountas and Pinnell Text Level Gradient, A-Z which assigns a letter to various levels of reading proficiency. In addition to the reading and writing curriculum, teachers will be using a new literacy intervention program that is aligned to the reading and writing workshop called the Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention. Depending upon a child’s independent reading level and instructional level that is determined by the benchmark assessment mentioned above, Reading Specialists, TESOL and Special Educators will use this system to address the learning needs of children who may need more time and assistance.

The Components of the Reading and Writing Workshop
At the heart of the TCRWP is the belief that children can become powerful, independent readers and writers if they are actively engaged in reading and writing. Daily reading and writing deepens and stretches children’s thinking about the world and helps them to advocate for themselves or others through their writing. By reading a rich and diverse collection of texts, students learn to use strategies to self-monitor, deepen their understanding and respond critically to what they read and write about. The primary goal of the TCRWP is to help educators to use the research on literacy from the last few decades to create lifelong readers and writers who are motivated and engaged. With daily exposure in the classroom, children develop stamina, deepen their interests, expand their vocabulary and develop strategies that help them to tackle more complex and diverse texts.

The Essential Elements of Reading Instruction for Primary Grades K-2

According to Dr. Calkins in A Guide to the Reading Workshop, Primary Grades (2015), “the essentials for reading instruction” (p. 27) are as follows:

  • “Readers need teachers who demonstrate what it means to live richly literate lives, wearing, a love of reading on their sleeves”.
  • “Readers need long stretches of time to read”.
  • Readers need opportunities to read high interest, accessible books of their own choosing”.
  • “Readers need to read increasingly complex texts appropriate for their grade level”.
  • “Readers need explicit instruction in the skills of proficient reading”.
  • “Readers need opportunities to talk and sometimes to write in response to texts”.
  • “Readers need support reading nonfiction books and building a knowledge base and academic vocabulary through information reading”.
  • “Readers need assessment-based instruction, including feedback that is tailored specifically to them. Struggling readers especially need instruction that is tailored to their specific strengths and needs, as well as extra time and extra help”.
  • “Readers need teachers to read aloud to them.”
  • “Readers need a balanced approach to language arts, one that includes a responsible approach to the teaching of writing as well as reading”.

The Essential Elements of Reading Instruction for Intermediate Grades 3-5
According to Dr. Calkins in A Guide to the Reading Workshop, Intermediate Grades (2015), “the essentials for reading instruction” (p. 26) are as follows:

  • “Learners need teachers who demonstrate what it means to live richly literate lives, wearing a love of reading on our sleeves”.
  • “Learners need long stretches of time to read”.
  • “Learners need opportunities to read high-interest, accessible books of their own choosing”.
  • “Learners need explicit instruction in the skills of proficient reading”.
  • “Learners need opportunities to talk and sometimes to write in response to their texts”.
  • “Learners need assessment-based instruction, including feedback that is tailored specifically to them. Strugglers especially need instruction that is tailored to their specific strengths and needs, as well as extra time and extra help”.
  • “Learners need teachers to read aloud”.
  • “Learners need a balanced approach to language arts, one that includes a responsible approach to the teaching of writing as well as of reading”.

The Essential Elements of Writing Instruction for Primary Grades K-2
According to Dr. Calkins in A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop, Primary Grades (2015),  “the essentials of writing instruction” are as follows (p. 35):

  • “Writing needs to be taught like any other basic skills, with explicit instruction and ample opportunity for practice”.
  • “Children deserve to write for zeal, to write the kinds of texts that they see in the world, and to write for an audience of readers”.
  • “Children need to be immersed in a listening and storytelling culture where their voices are valued and heard”.
  • “Writers write to put meaning onto the page. Children invest themselves in their writing when they choose topics that are important to them”.
  • “Children need to be taught phonemic awareness and phonics–the instruction that undergirds their language development”.
  • “Children deserve to be explicitly taught how to write”.
  • “Children deserve the opportunity and instruction to cycle through the writing process”.
  • “To write well, children need opportunities to read and to hear texts read and to read as writers”.
  • “Children need clear goals and frequent feedback”.

The Essential Elements of Writing Instruction for Primary Grades 3-5
According to Dr. Calkins in A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop, Intermediate Grades(2015), the “essentials of writing instruction” are as follows (p. 23):

  • “Writing needs to be taught like any other basic skills, with explicit instruction and ample opportunity for practice”.
  • “Children deserve to write for real purposes, to write the kinds of texts that they see in the world and to write for an audience of readers”.
  • “Writers write to put meaning onto the page. Children invest themselves in their writing when they choose topics that are important to them”.
  • “Children deserve to be explicitly taught how to write”.
  • “Children deserve the opportunity and instruction to cycle through the writing process”.
  • “To write well, children need opportunities to read and to hear texts read, and to read as writers”.
  • “Children need clear goals and frequent feedback”.

The Curriculum Units of Study
The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) units of study in reading and writing were purchased for each teacher. This collection of resources, along with year long professional learning provided by the TCRWP, will support teachers and students. The TCRWP website also contains a host of resources including videos on the reading and writing workshop which can be found at:
http://readingandwritingproject.org/resources/units-of-study  and
http://readingandwritingproject.org/resources/units-of-study-in-reading

Contents of the Writing Workshop K-2 Primary Curriculum kits

  • A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop
  • Four units of study including one unit devoted on opinion, information, and narrative writing which are as follows:
    • Kindergarten Units of Study
      • Launching the Writing Workshop
      • Writing for Readers
      • How-To Books: writing to teach others
      • Persuasive Writing of All Kinds: using words to make a change
    • Grade 1 Units of Study
      • Non Fiction Chapter Books
      • Writing Reviews
      • From Scenes to Series: writing fiction
      • Small Moments: writing with focus, detail and dialogue
    • Grade 2 Units of Study
      • Lessons from the Masters: improving narrative writing
      • Lab Reports and Science Books
      • Writing About Reading
      • Poetry: big thoughts in small packages
  • A collection of additional units called If, Then, Curriculum:  Assessment-Based Instruction
  • A collection of assessments called Writing Pathways: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions, K-5 to assist students.
  • A CD-ROM called Resources for Teaching Writing which contains resources for the teachers such as paper choices, reproducible checklists and sample writing.

Contents of the Reading Workshop K-2 Primary Curriculum kits

  • A Guide to the Reading Workshop, Primary Grades
  • Four units of study which contains a balance between fiction and information reading and support for foundational skills and are as follows:
    • Kindergarten Units of Study
      • We Are Readers
      • Super Powers: reading with print strategies and sign word power
      • Bigger Books, Bigger Reading Muscles
      • Becoming Avid Readers
    • Grade 1 Units of Study
      • Becoming Good Reading Habits
      • Learning About the Worlds: reading nonfiction
      • Readers Have Big Jobs To Do: fluency, phonics, and comprehension
      • Meeting Characters and Learning Lessons: a study of story elements
    • Grade 2 Units of Study
      • Second-Grade  Reading Growth Spurt
      • Becoming Experts: reading nonfiction
      • Bigger Books Mean Amping Up Reading Power
      • Series Book Clubs
  • A collection of additional units called If, Then, Curriculum:  Assessment-Based Instruction, Grades K-2 will be used by teachers to differentiate and support small group work and one-to-conferring.
  • A collection of online resources for teaching reading which includes student tools, reading logs, short texts, reproducible checklists, homework, mentor texts, artistic renderings of charts, and web links. There is a collection for each grade level.
  • A five day plan for read alouds and shared reading lessons.
  • Anchors charts and large post-it notes that serve as visuals to support students’ independent practice and use of strategies.

Contents of the Writing Workshop 3-5 Intermediate Curriculum kits

  • A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop
  • Four units of study including one unit devoted to opinion, information, and narrative writing and are as follows:
    • Grade 3 Units of Study
      • Crafting True Stories
      • The Art of Information Writing
      • Changing the World–persuasive speeches, petitions, and editorials
      • Once Upon a Time:adapting and writing fairy tales
    • Grade 4 Units of Study
      • The Arc of Story: writing realistic fiction
      • Boxes and Bullets: personal and persuasive essays
      • Bringing History to Life
      • The Literary Essay
    • Grade 5 Units of Study
      • Narrative Craft
      • The Lens of History: research reports
      • Shaping Texts: from essay and narrative to memoir
      • The Research-Based Argument Essay
  • A collection of additional units called If, Then, Curriculum to assist teachers in differentiating.
  • A collection of assessments called Writing Pathways: Performance Assessments and Learning Progressions, K-5 to assist students.
  • A CD-ROM called Resources for Teaching Writing which contains resources for the teachers such as reproducible checklists and sample writing.

Contents of the Reading Workshop 3-5 Intermediate Curriculum kits

  • A Guide to the Reading Workshop, Intermediate
  • Four units of study: two units in reading fiction, two in informational reading which are as follows:
    • Grade 3 Units of Study
      • Building a Reading Life
      • Reading to Learn
      • Character Studies
      • Research Clubs
    • Grade 4 Units of Study
      • Interpreting Characters: the heart of the story
      • Reading the Weather, Reading the World
      • Reading History: The American Revolution
      • Historical Fiction Clubs
    • Grade 5 Units of Study
      • Interpretation Book Clubs: amazing themes
      • Tackling Complexity: moving up levels of nonfiction
      • Argument and Advocacy: researching debatable issues
      • Fantasy Book Clubs: the magic of themes and symbols
  • A collection of additional units called If, Then, Curriculum:  Assessment-Based Instruction, Grades 3-5 will be used by teachers to differentiate and support small group work and one-to-conferring.
  • A collection of assessments called Reading Pathways: Grades 3-5 to assist students.
  • A CD-ROM called Resources for Teaching Reading which contains  a vast array of resources for the teachers such short texts, bibliographies, artistic renderings of charts, reproducible checklists, homework, mentor texts, videos and web links.

The Reading Workshop Classroom
Schedules vary in the reading and writing workshop, but ample time is needed so that children have daily exposure that follows a balanced literacy approach. The following processes can be observed in a reading workshop:

  • A read aloud, which Dr. Calkins calls the “heart and soul of the classroom” (p. 53, A Guide to the Reading Workshop: Primary Grades, 2015). The purpose of the read aloud is to “show students how to talk about books, listen to ideas, elaborate, connect ideas and engage in accountable talk about books” (p. 53, A Guide to the Reading Workshop: Primary Grades, 2015). Teachers also use a popular approach called “turn and talk” which allows children to discuss their thinking with another student.
  • A whole class mini-lesson, which is no longer than 10 minutes, is used to teach students an important reading strategy that they can apply a few minutes later and reference in the future when they need it.
  • After the mini-lesson, children go off to read independently either in book clubs with others students who are reading the same book, alone or with a partner. A hallmark of the reading workshop is that it provides a crucial time for students to receive feedback from their teacher while they are working. When children are reading, the teacher is conferring with students individually, in skill groups or in small guided reading groups. During this time, the teacher is assessing, supporting, scaffolding, and extending student thinking and learning by acting as a coach or facilitator. During the reading workshop, children are “actively” engaged in close reading with the text in hand. Older children are taking notes in their writer’s notebook or using post-it notes and underlining text or words to collect evidence from the text and prepare to support their thinking using this evidence from the text. Younger children are engaged in more interactive work which includes shared reading, interactive writing, storytelling, guided reading and word study (phonological and phonemic awareness). For younger children, there is daily teaching of phonics, spelling and vocabulary.
  • At some point during the middle of the reading workshop, the teacher brings the whole class back together to share a mid-workshop teaching point that will help all readers. This five minutes is taken to redirect the students. Dr. Calkins calls this a “quick eye on me” moment as a way for the teacher to impart an important piece of information to children that will deepen their thinking. The teacher may forego this mid-point teaching moment if this interrupts the engagement or momentum. The teacher will know what to do.
  • The reading workshop ends with the teacher bringing the class back together as a whole and connecting the students back to the mini-lesson. This short time, 10 minutes, is dominated by student talk about how they applied a strategy and stretched their thinking.  It is important for children to know that learning is transferable and that they need to be able to recall and apply strategies and skills that have been previously taught.

The Writing Workshop Classroom
Like the reading workshop, children need to write daily. Schedules will differ and more time may need to be added to the literacy block. The TCRWP is built upon the “demonstrate, scaffold, release to write” approach. This approach relies upon the active and explicit teaching of writing skills and strategies that real writers use in their craft. In this approach, the teacher demonstrates the process that writers use to be successful in the type of writing that is being studied in a particular unit of study as cited above. Teachers scaffold so that students practice the steps for the type of writing that they are modeling. Teachers release students to write independently to draw upon strategies and skills that they have been taught. This process differs across grades because capacity and stamina are developed over time. The following components can be observed in a writing workshop:

  • A whole class mini-lesson, which is no longer than 10 minutes, is used to teach children an important reading strategy that they can apply a few minutes later and reference in the future when they need it. Teachers may use document cameras, Smart boards or anchor charts to demonstrate a particular strategy for writing.
  • After the mini-lesson, children go off to a writing center, their desks, the floor or a place that they can comfortably write independently for about 35 minutes. Children are writing in a writing folder, writing notebook or booklet depending upon the grade level. Like the reading workshop, the teacher is assessing, supporting, scaffolding, and extending student thinking and learning by acting as a coach or facilitator. Mid-workshop teaching points or a “quick eye on me” moment is a way to impart some important information as children continue through the writing process.
  • The first stage of writing is called rehearsal or pre-writing or gathering entries in their writing folders, writer’s notebooks or booklets. When children are writing, the teacher is conferring with individuals or conducting skill or strategy groups with students. Over time and with guidance from the teacher, children move from rehearsal to drafting. In drafting, children focus on the subject of their writing. Because it is important for children to transfer strategies and skills across their work, they may reference a mentor text or text that illustrates a particular style of writing that they are emulating. They may be seen reading a particular type of text or book to capture the essence of the writer’s craft or style of writing.  After feedback from the teacher over a period of time, drafting moves to revision. During this process, children reflect on their writing and thinking. Teachers build future mini-lessons based upon common areas in children’s writing as well as conduct strategy sessions with students based upon their review and assessment of the type of writing that students are doing. After revision, comes editing. The editing process is taught within mini-lessons, during mid-workshop teaching, during share sessions and homework assignments. The teacher uses authentic examples to share with students to illustrate editing. After the editing process, the teacher checks the student work once again before it is published (displayed publically in the room or electronically). Overtime, students accumulate a variety of types of writing in their writing (print or digital) portfolios.
  • The writing workshop ends with the teacher bringing the class back together as a whole and connecting the students back to the mini-lesson. This short time, 10 minutes, is dominated by students sharing how they applied a strategy and stretched their writing and thinking.  As in the reading workshop, it is important for children to know that learning is transferable and that they need to be able to recall and apply strategies and skills that have been previously taught.

As you read and digest this information, please feel free to speak with your child’s teacher about this work. Please review the videos on the Teachers College web site provided in the links embedded above to get a better sense of this form of pedagogy and learning. We look forward to helping children to become more powerful readers and writers.

Mathematics Curriculum

Teachers utilize the following New York State Curricula Modules for Mathematics instruction:

Social Studies and Science Curriculum

The Social Studies curriculum comes alive for students through project based learning, field trips, and interactive classroom experiences. Fourth grade students participate in experiential learning about Native Americans, colonial life, the study of explorers, local history study, and the American Revolution. Students participate in a two-day Colonial Fair during which they immerse themselves in colonial life experiences. A spring field trip to Sturbridge Village caps the exciting study of colonial life. Fifth grade students start with a study of local and national government. History, geography, economics and citizenship are the themes for their later study of the Western Hemisphere. New York State Board of Regents adopted a new social studies framework and curricula guide.

The scientific process is the focal point for inquiry based science lessons. Fourth grade units of study include weather, light, rocks and minerals, botany and buoyancy. Fourth graders participate in a maple-sugaring unit that they then introduce to students from the primary school. A local pond study and participation in the Jason Project complement fifth grade students’ explorations of plant and animal life, oceanography, chemistry, sound and electricity. All students have the opportunity to participate in an annual Science Exposition in which students develop their interests and talents in Science through research and experiments. Teachers utilize the Science 21 curriculum resources.
The affective curriculum, with emphasis on respect, responsibility, and effort, pervades everyday life for students at C.V. Starr. Honesty, perseverance, caring, acceptance and citizenship are taught and reinforced through monthly themes, town meetings and student recognitions.