Seventy-five teachers in Naperville Unit District 203 will be heading into next school year with a new framework for helping students learn to write.
The educators attended a four-day course this week in which literacy experts said it's not so much the content of writing instruction that should change with implementation of Common Core standards, but the delivery.
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Teachers should see themselves as coaches who guide students through the writing process from word to sentence to paragraph to essay, giving feedback and building independence along the way, said Audra Robb, an instructor with the Reading and Writing Project of New York-based Teachers College.
"It's about presenting the challenge to students and giving them tools to approach it on their own," Robb said.
Robb was one of several instructors from Teachers College who came to Naperville to train select kindergarten through eighth-grade teachers who then will become literacy leaders within their buildings.
Jayne Willard, director of curriculum and instruction, said District 203 brought in Teachers College because the district is using the Units of Study program developed by the organization's founder Lucy Calkins in the a literacy curriculum to be implemented next year.
"The outcomes will be the same, the expectations are the same," Willard said about the new curriculum, "but we will individualize the way we take the student through the writing process."
Instead of putting the focus on writing as a rigid process, District 203 educators will shift the focus to the writer, who is each individual student.
"It's really about teaching the writer rather than the writing," Willard said. "It's how do we make writing authentic for our students."
Junior high teachers in a session led by Robb discussed how to teach personal narrative, literary essay and fiction writing and how to help students if they're stuck somewhere along the way. They practiced a debate protocol included in the seventh-grade curriculum that would challenge students to organize thoughts on topics such as competitive sports for kids.
"Before, we were teaching a process," said Jennifer Hester, chief academic officer. "Now we're teaching the writer to move through progressions" of building writing skills at their individual pace.
The four-day training was funded by a $31,000 grant from the Jeanine Nicarico Memorial Fund for Literacy, which was established in memory of 10-year-old Jeanine, a Naperville girl who was abducted and killed in 1983.
The grant is the largest sum of money the fund has given at once since it was founded in 1996.
Chris Roy, one of Jeanine's sisters and an elementary teacher in District 203, got to see the grant dollars at work as she participated in the training.
"It's neat to be a part of this training and see how the grant is being used and affecting teachers," Roy said. "Just sitting here in the classroom, I'm seeing teachers go deeper in their understanding of writing, and that's what we're all about."