Staying abreast of proven best practices in education is a priority for BASIS.ed-managed schools. Recently, our BASIS Independent Manhattan Head of School, Jesse Rizzo, attended Columbia University’s student writing workshop for teachers and parents, and she thought it would be helpful to share some insights gained from the discussions. Overall, the event explored best practices and consideration for building children’s writing stamina, independence in writing, as well as understanding text.

Jesse Rizzo.jpg“The big take away was how to be an active listener when reviewing students’ writing,” Ms. Rizzo said. “We can ask students why they picked a certain topic and what more they want to say, for instance. As parents and educators we like to fix and correct. What we need to do is to stop that – avoid jumping in - and instead ask really good questions to nurture student independence when writing.”

Teachers and parents can ask children thought-provoking questions that help link ideas and inspire further thought and writing, such as:

  • Why is this part of the story important?
  • How will you know you are done?
  • How will you share your story with others?

“We want to engage our students to make them participants and not spectators,” said Ms. Rizzo. “It speaks to who we are as a school. BASIS Independent schools are about getting every kid engaged, and you don’t want that to stop. We want kids to get just as excited about reading and writing as they are about recess.”

One other insight Ms. Rizzo shared was the idea of finding ways to offer choice and control in the process to students that are resistant to writing. During creative writing spurts, allowing younger students to control the topic of focus is important - even if it happens to be video games. Let kids write about what matters to them and explore why. Parents and educators can help nurture excitement and even a love of writing by permitting control of content. Then there are other small but important ways to offer students control over basic items such as different paper and pens. Even choice of where to sit in a classroom can help make writing projects more exciting and fun.

reading shots_1348.jpgStudents who get “stuck” writing and need help choosing topics or finding ways to continue writing need a slightly different approach. Rather than a teacher or parent dictating what comes next, talking through questions for children to ponder and explore out loud first helps. The idea is to help provide them with ways to help themselves and develop an independence in writing. Trying to avoid leading the discussion too much is something parents may need help doing, since the natural response is to jump in and assist. Actively listening to what the student finds interesting and questioning how to think through stories when stuck is how to help teach and support greater independence and enjoyment of writing.

Some resources for parents that were discussed at the writing workshop:

“I think what I walked away with is that every kid is so different in the classroom,” said Ms. Rizzo, "and it is a reminder that it is our goal as educators to understand every single child. Meet them where they are and to push them to excel and revel the joy in learning.”

Ms. Rizzo used to tell her students during writing workshops: “When you think you are done, you’ve only just begun.” She is excited to put this perspective into practice for BASIS Independent Manhattan beginning fall 2017.

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