“Once children learn how to learn, nothing
is going to narrow their mind.
The essence of teaching is to make
to have one idea spark another.”
~Marva Collins, Chicago Educator & Reformer
A New Year’s Resolution:
Turn Frustration into Fuel
by Suzanne Klein
WriteSteps Founder & CEO
K-5 writing instruction has taken some baby steps forward since I first began
offering WriteSteps lessons outside my own school in 2007. Because the
Common Core elevates the teaching of writing at all grade levels, I see
more districts starting to take writing seriously.
But we have such a long way to go! As I travel the country to address
school leaders about Common Core writing, I still find teachers
everywhere who are completely lacking the support they need to succeed
in giving our children the gift of clear written expression. I just feel
so disheartened when I hear their stories.
Who Are These Failing Teachers?
They are bright and dedicated educators. They love their students and
they want them to succeed. They are often standouts in other subject
So why are they failing when it comes to teaching writing? It’s pretty
simple. Their instructional leaders, whether principals or district
curriculum coordinators, haven’t prioritized writing. They haven’t got
the tools they need.
Armed with a hodgepodge of lessons and often just 15-20 minutes a day
for writing instruction, these admirable teachers do what they can,
but see little measurable progress to inspire their teaching. The
students who are already natural writers may write page upon page, but
don’t necessarily learn to use words powerfully or clearly. Those who
are struggling write with neither passion nor detail. Neither group
learns to analyze their strengths and weaknesses in ways that move them
toward greater independence or help them better tackle the next
It’s Not Rocket Science! 5 Keys to Success
What do their teachers need? Helping elementary students sharpen their
writing skills without killing their creativity is hard work. It’s not
like teaching math or phonics; we don’t have textbooks for this. But
it’s not rocket science either. There is a well-established body of best
practices in writing instruction that works beautifully for children.
What’s missing is:
A common set of practices & vocabulary about writing.
Good writing really comes from developing a whole tool kit of
abilities, including organizational and analytic skills. First graders
who learn to analyze anonymous student writing by finding “glows” and
“grows” (strengths and weaknesses) need second grade teachers who will
use the same techniques and language to build their capacities. Consistency across the grades rewards both students and teachers.
Common assessment methods students can count on across the grades.
Assessing writing isn’t simple; a common assessment tool empowers both
students and teachers to think clearly about the elements that make
“good writing” convincing and easy to read. WriteSteps uses the 6 Traits rubrics from 1st through 5th grade.
Principals who hold teachers accountable. This
doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It’s as simple as asking each
teacher to share 3 student writing samples per month: one each from a
low, medium, and high-performing student. Principals might also pop in a
classroom to browse students’ writing notebooks on a monthly basis,
just to see how often they’re writing. These simple acts convey a clear
message to teachers and students: writing matters.
Time. K-5 teachers need permission to spend 50
minutes a day, 3-5 times a week, modeling, inspiring, coaching,
cheerleading, and celebrating students’ written work.
Professional development that is practical and solution-oriented.
Overstretched teachers need PD that translates into immediate student
learning, not lofty ideals and resources that require hours of
additional study to create usable lessons. PD funds
can be used to purchase a comprehensive program like WriteSteps,
because we offer PD in the form of grade-level coaching that really
Turning Failure Around — My Personal Story
Years ago, I was one of those frustrated elementary writing teachers.
The seed for WriteSteps came from a comprehensive study of writing
pedagogy which I undertook because my school had such poor writing
scores. I was lucky enough to have a principal who “got it.” Because of
the support I received, I was inspired to do the time-consuming research
necessary to uncover the teaching practices that really work.
The problem: I found a tremendous wealth of time-tested instructional
practices, but nothing I could put to immediate use. All these great
resources still required endless hours of additional study and planning
to translate into lessons! Hence, WriteSteps was born, and I’m so
gratified that other schools are turning their students’ writing around
with our help. But you already know that, right?
Frustration into Fuel:
Coming Soon to a Conference Near You!
My only remaining frustration is that more districts don’t know about
us. So this year, I’m turning my frustration into fuel by spreading the
word about our teacher-friendly Common Core approach from coast to
coast. This winter and spring, I’ll be addressing educational leaders
nationwide about Common Core writing strategies that work for all kinds
of learners and all kinds of teachers.
Come and see me when I’m in your area! I’d love to connect with you! Here’s my schedule for the upcoming months:
National Title I Conference (Seattle, WA) February 2-4
Colorado Council International Reading Association Convention (Denver, CO) February 3-7
Wisconsin State Reading Association (WSRA) (Milwaukee) March 9
Michigan Reading Association (MRA) (Kalamazoo) March 11-12
Missouri Association of Elementary School Principals (MAESP-MO) (Osage Beach) March 22-24
National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) (Seattle, WA) April 12-13
Massachusetts Reading Association (MRA-Mass) (Sturbridge) Teaching Tips from Denise
Check out our blog at the end of this week for more great teaching tips from 3rd grade Curriculum Coordinator Denise Dusseau! And be sure to see our December eNewsletter and blog for Denise’s interview and tips if you missed them last month! Suzanne’s Upcoming Appearance on Lifetime Television
Tune into The Balancing Act, airing February 7th and 28th at 7:00 a.m. on Lifetime Television, in partnership with The Learning First Alliance. Suzanne will share insights on The Parent Teacher Corner about empowering teachers with well-designed Common Core writing lessons.