Manhasset schools assess new writing program

Manhasset schools assess new writing program
Teachers describe the writing program being implemented at Manhasset elementary schools. (From l to r) Kym Springston, kindergarten at Munsey Park; Jill Scionti, kindergarten and special education at Munsey Park; Michelle Madden, 4th grade at Munsey Park; Kristy Mayo, 4th grade at Shelter Rock; Dawn Farrel, special education and kindergarten at Shelter Rock; Carin Shackel, 1st grade at Shelter Rock.

Charles Leone, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Manhasset schools, heard the same complaint from elementary school teachers over and over again: students lacked sequential, consistent writing skills as they progressed from one grade to the next.

Leone, fellow administrators and a committee of teachers embarked on an effort six years ago to develop a new writing program. Last Thursday, they presented the Board of Education with results from the program’s first three years.

“The heart of the program is the writing process,” Leone said. “It’s about teaching that there is a craft to writing.”

The program provides “multiple opportunities for students to think deeply and critically about what they read and write, from analyzing writer’s craft, to planning and revising their drafts, to publishing a piece of writing with a clear purpose and with ‘audience’ in mind,” according to a Board of Education document.

At the board meeting, six elementary school teachers described their classroom activities and the skills they engender.

Carin Shackel, a first-grade teacher at Shelter Rock Elementary School, explained the seven steps of the writing process as taught to her students: planning, writing, drawing pictures, adding details, fixing, meeting with the teacher and sharing with the class. She showed a photograph depicting notes, each of which had an individual student’s name written on it.  As a pupil progresses through the writing process, Shackel said, he or she moves the note to a section of a classroom board that corresponds with one of the steps.

Using this tool, “students self-monitor themselves,” Shackel said.

She estimated that the writing process takes a student as many as four weeks to complete, allowing each pupil to finish approximately 10 written works throughout the school year.

Michelle Madden, a fourth-grade teacher at Munsey Park Elementary School, explained how her students use “mentor texts” to “learn to read like writers” and respect the “art of writing.” The students learn to not just write about experience but show it through sensory details, she added.  Students in fourth grade and above use a modified form of the first-grade writing process that builds on the steps developed in previous years.

“This is truly a workshop process,” Leone said. “We’ve enculturated it into each of the classrooms.”

That shift in instruction has come with teacher development provided by Molly Wood and Michelle Stone, language consultants at the Literacy Learning Network, Leone said.

Wood and Stone hold 10 to 16 half-day training sessions each year to help elementary school teachers incorporate this new form of instruction.

Leone said the program will continue for the foreseeable future but “just like with any program, as new things come up it’s our responsibility to examine and investigate them.”

“When you run a building, the greatest feeling is to see great things come together through tremendous effort,” Manhasset School Superintendent Charles Cardillo said. “Everything we saw tonight benefits students.”

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