A PreK-4 student uses tweezers to sort beads into piles. Down the hall, a Kindergarten student writes a string of letters to represent a picture. In 3rd Grade, a student is working on the final draft of her narrative. Which of these children is writing? All three!
Learning to write is a developmental process. The building blocks of writing start at infancy. Babies as young as 18 months begin to model writing through lines and squiggles. As fine motor muscles strengthen, young children form recognizable letters. As they develop phonemic awareness, older learners are able to associate letter sounds with written symbols. Once these milestones are met, children are ready to learn the formal rules of writing.
In their Early Childhood years at Episcopal, students focus on developmentally-appropriate skills that lay the foundation for their future writing. With a focus on strengthening fine motor muscles, they complete tasks such as lacing cards, grasping objects with tweezers or rolling play-dough to form letters. Teachers model writing through the Morning Message, helping the learners associate spoken words with written text. Students practice the structure of writing by dictating their stories, which are published by the teacher.
The learning environment itself is purposefully designed in a way that provides endless opportunities for children to explore writing materials. Students in the dramatic play center scribble on a notepad to take “orders” at a restaurant. In the science center, a group of children label pictures of a butterfly's life cycle.
These pre-writing skills are critical as students enter Kindergarten and begin daily journaling. As the year passes, students move from drawing and labeling pictures to writing short descriptions of their pictures with complete sentences and punctuation. Students’ learning is supported by their teachers. Their work becomes more independent as the year progresses.
Once students enter first grade at Episcopal, they are introduced to Writing Workshop. This is a dedicated time each day where students work on “growing their writing” through a series of mini lessons, learning to write for a variety of audiences and purposes. The teacher acts as a mentor author, modeling the writing process and helping young writers as they navigate their way through drafts, revisions and publishing their work. Students’ work is self-selected and they take full ownership of the writing process, using a checklist to revise and edit their own work. The Writing Workshop model continues through 5th Grade.
Take a peek into a Lower School classroom at Episcopal and you will see students fully immersed in their writing. During the first quarter, 1st Grade students have been working on a narrative piece, focusing on telling the beginning, middle and end of the story. In front of each child sits a folder, bursting with drafts of stories covered in marked-up revisions and glued-on additions. Students are beaming with pride as they work on their final published work. This ownership over their writing gives students a voice to tell their stories.
Writing is a critical part of telling our stories. The building blocks are laid as students progress through their years in Lower School. They will take these skills with them as they move forward to Middle and Upper School. The strong writing foundation that they have built during their years at Episcopal gives them the means to share their thoughts with others as they prepare to go out into the world. As the saying goes, “No one can tell your story, so tell it yourself. No one can write your story, so write it yourself.”
A 2001 graduate of Episcopal High School, Julie returned to her alma mater in 2012. She received both her undergraduate degree and MEd in Elementary Education at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX. After teaching 2nd grade in a Dual Language program in Texas public schools for three years, Julie moved abroad to teach 1st grade at a bilingual school in Gracias, Lempira Honduras. After her adventure was over, Julie accepted a position to teach Pre-K4 at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge, teaching alongside some of her former teachers. She has enjoyed seeing what life is like on the other side of the desk.