It's All In the Planning
Writer's Workshop At Key
by Rebecca Westerman, Donna Hart and Sara Schwabacher
It was a Wednesday morning (March 14) and the Key Elementary School library was packed with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and their related children along with teachers and other staff members for the third Extreme Writers Workshop for Key families. It was St. Patrick’s Day in the Media Center--- bangles, beads, and flowers along with refreshments and door prizes, all thanks to Key Family Coordinator Stanley O’Shields.
Families experienced a Writers Workshop, complete with modeling, observations recorded in personal notebooks, writing and taking home an assignment to turn their writing into another genre. Anchor charts used at the previous workshop on descriptive writing using all five senses were displayed and referred to for writing.
Coach Rebecca Westerman took the lead for this workshop, modeling how to look closely at an object from nature using a jewelers’ loupe. Using all of her senses, she related what she saw, while teacher Brandi Hankhouse scribed. She shared with families two “observation” poems written by Key Coaches Karen Wetherell and Rebecca Westerman at an August professional development meeting led by Cornerstone staff members Becky McKay, Johnnie Tankersley, and Nereida Morales. Finally, she modeled how she turned the images from her observations of a flower into a poem about her grandmother.
Three Cornerstone staff members participated in the workshop. Each of the Cornerstone ladies gave their perspectives on why writing was important. Edna Varner reminded the group that everyone has a need to write because each person has something important to say and that writers had to be mentally involved. Sara Schwabacher encouraged families to share experiences and talk about them together, reminding all that children need “this much talking (lots) for this much writing (little).” Nereida Morales remarked that the children would always remember the days when their parents took time from their busy schedules to come to school and do something special with them.
Parents and children then went outside to go on a nature walk around the school to obtain three interesting objects to write about. They came inside and Rebecca asked parents to scribe the child’s “noticings,” and then to share with the group. Almost every participant eagerly shared their writing with the group. It was a marvelous time of reflection.
Following the sharing, parent coordinator Lana Helton had “goodie bags” to go home with the students: bug catching kits including magnifying glass and net, a notebook to collect observations as a family, and a graphic organizer to help families turn their observations into a poem. The visual graphic organizers had places for the families to write “What Does It Look Like?” and “What Does It Remind Me Of?” The participants were instructed to use their items, descriptions, and thoughts to compose a poem at home and return the finished product to school.
This powerful workshop was the result of a good initial process. It’s all in the planning.
The planning started in October at a table with all the stakeholders present: PTA President Juliet Freeman, Intra-Community Parent Coordinator Lana Helton, Key School Family Coordinator Stanley O’Shields, Coach Karen Wetherell, Principal Donna Hart, Cornerstone Parent Representative Terralashay Chester. Cornerstone Community/Parent Engagement Associate Sara Schwabacher introduced a process for brainstorming connections between goals on the Literacy Action Plan and parent activities. And principal Donna Hart shared: “We’ve followed it ever since.” (See description of planning process and chart used to brainstorm at Key during October in the article Literacy At Home in Cornerstone newsletter Volume 7-2).
Just as with a classroom Writers Workshop, each Extreme Writers workshop follows the same structure and routine, varied by using a different type of writing. Principal Donna Hart usually begins the workshop with a slide show of the previous session (due to her illness, the March workshop was missing this component). The various activities support different learning styles and ensure a role for everyone on the team. Involving the whole team in the leadership of the workshop brings different points of view. The impact of the workshop extends because there is always a “homework” assignment that families can follow through on and send back to school. Workshops spread the word about writing by demonstrating how writing is being taught in the classroom.
The two previous writers’ workshops took place on December 6th, 2006 and February 14th, 2007. For the first workshop, families brought in family photographs from home. After talking about the photographs, the children and parents wrote in their journals what was significant about the pictures. The journals were purchased by the school and sent home with the participants. The second workshop highlighted using senses in writing—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling. Families created “quilts” of writing and photos.
Family writing done at home and returned to the school is celebrated by being posted on a huge bulletin board in the main hall of the school by the front entrance, accompanied by photographs taken at the workshop of students and their family member.
The fourth writers’ workshop will be held in April. The Home/School Committee will begin work on making plans for it next week. Each member of the Home/School Committee has a vital part in its success. Sharing and discussing continues from one event until the next.
Donna Hart reports being especially moved by the reactions of parents. One parent who had come to a workshop with a struggling first grader called the next day and asked if she could read aloud what the family had written the day before. The parent ended the conversation by saying “Thanks for inspiring us.” According to Ms. Hart: “We tapped into a piece of her schema that had never been tapped in to. It gave her hope.”
Three poems turned in as homework following the March workshop:
By Justin Swain
I play basketball every day
I have games on Tuesdays
Win or lose I love to play
Basketball makes my day!
Ready to Play
By Jelicia Lewis
(Mary Ann Andras’s Third Grade Class)
I hear laughter in the air
Where children smile without a care
The tickling breeze fills our space
Inspiration with awkward grace
I smell the ocean
Feel the wind going round
Yet I remain stuck here on the ground.
The Beginning and the End
by Nathanael T. Moore
In the beginning the Lord said, “I will build my church upon this rock.” You tell me, would this rock be part of that foundation?
Speaking of foundation this rock is hard, just like the foundation of my family! It has different parts. The first part is Great Grandma Granny who is the base of the family and the strong part that holds up the entire family!
The second part is the color of the rock. The dark areas are like Grandma Jackie because she is always mad and fussing when things don’t go her way. When, on the other hand, the light bright areas are like MeMa who is always happy and funny! But I love them both.
The third part of the rock is the movement of the rock. If a rock stays in one area it will never go anywhere. Saying, if my family never does their best then we will never move to be better people. Like I said in the beginning, the Lord said. ”I will build my church upon this rock!”
Who knows? It could be the same rock that destroys us all in Armageddon!