Orli was sitting on the floor with her papers surrounding her. She looked up from her work for a moment, saw me walking her direction, and signaled for me to come over so she could show me what she was doing. She smiled as she told me about the nonfiction book she is writing about places in New York City. She showed me the notes and earlier drafts that she had already completed and that she was referring to as she carefully wrote out her final draft. She pointed out that the paper she was using for the final draft was smaller than the regular sized pages she used for her earlier drafts, noting that “the book is going to be like a chapter book.” She then excitedly asked me to read the first section she had completed, about how to get around in NYC. As I handed the pages back to her, Orli turned back to her writing, clearly engaged and committed to her project.
Orli and the other second grade students working on their nonfiction books were not the only students I saw writing as a I walked through the classrooms at Schechter Manhattan this past Tuesday morning. The first grade students were writing too. The classroom was quiet when I arrived, every student working carefully on their writing as the teachers moved around the classroom offering whispered guidance to students as needed. The Kitah Aleph students were also working from earlier drafts of writing pieces, in response to the prompts “I wonder… I imagine…. I observe… or I remember,” and making edits in preparation for publishing. Naomi showed me her piece about a snowy day and Avner shared his about building model airplanes and boats. The students in Kitah Aleph were as deeply engaged with their writing as Orli was.
In fifth grade some students were making edits to their opinion essays. As with the first and second grades, the tone in the fifth grade classroom was of focused and quiet work. Elana leaned over her laptop, looking back and forth between the text of her essay about whether kids should have cell phones (shared with her teachers on Google docs) and the editing checklist on her desk. She was checking her work for writing mechanics, making sure she looked carefully for corrections to capitalization, grammar, and punctuation. She made changes in her essay and checked off on the checklist as she did. Shoshana was doing similar work on her essay about whether kids should play sports and she was incorporating peer editing feedback. She looked over a peer editing revision form that another student had completed when reading her draft and then turned to her laptop to make edits to her essay.
Observing these students working on their writing highlighted a number of aspects of writing instruction at Schechter Manhattan. Students write in a workshop setting, in which everyone is working on their own writing, occasionally conferring with each other, and the teachers support students’ growth through small group and individual conferences. This is in line with the literacy approach of the Reading and Writing Project of Teachers College at Columbia University. In their description of the workshop approach the literacy experts at the Reading and Writing Project state that “Small group work and conferring are what a teacher spends a bulk of the workshop time engaged in, which provides the teacher with multiple opportunities to personalize instruction.” The personalization opportunities in the workshop model apply to writing skills, such as work on mechanics, organization, style, and voice, as well as to what students write about. In all of the writing tasks I observed students chose their own topics and practiced their writing on areas of their own interests. Student choice affords students practice in expressing ideas in writing that are important to them and leads students to feel invested in their writing, which plays an important part in the high levels of engagement I observed as students worked on their writing. The students were also all working on their writing through a process, drafting, editing, revising, and crafting their writing for publishing. This process helps students to understand that good writing takes care, time, and lots of revision.
You can see samples of Schechter Manhattan student writing at all stages of their writing process each week in the Author’s Chair section (just below) of Daf Kesher. I am going to to keep my eyes open for the pieces from Kitah Aleph, nonfiction books from Kitah Bet, and opinion essays from Kitah Heh.
Each week we will feature the written work of our students. We hope that you will stop by every week and see what they are writing and thinking about.
During Winter Week, students created designs using cotton balls and now they returned to their work to add a sentence about their creation.
“I WOZ IN INDEA” (I was in India)
“I WeTTo The e GLo WUTh Abele” (I went to the igloo with Adele)
The 2nd grade students have been learning about habits of good readers. This past week, they asked questions about the characters in their books.
Harry and the Lady Next Door
Why does harry Not like the lady next door? But not like her music to? Becous he thinks her music is too loud. Harry thinks her music is scary too.
Why whold Charlotte whant to come to the fair? Why did they put buttrmilk on Wilbur? If Charlotte needed a sade place to lay her eggs why would she stay at the farm insatd of going to the fair? Why does the rat want to come to the fair?
The Cat in the Hat
Why did the cat go to the house? Why did the cat mess up the room? Why didnt the cat let Thing One and Thing 2 Jump out of the box?
Big Nate Goes for Broke
Why Does Nate hate cats? Why Does Nate Love Dogs? Why Does Nate hate Nolan so much?
Kitah Dalet students have been researching animals of the rain forest. After taking extensive notes, they created outlines. They organized their information in a clear and concise way that will then be turned into a 5 paragraph essay.
For a culminating assignment in their Talmud unit, 6th grade wrote five paragraph essays exploring the ways that the rabbis of the mishna and the talmud derived the rules of how to say certain tefillot. Students also wrote about the connections between these laws and their own personal tefillahexperience.