Write to Read: A Tale of Effective Literacy Partnerships
By Dr. Sam Bommarito
Assistant Adjunct Professor- UMSL
Reading Specialist- SLPS
When I embarked on my newest career move two years ago to become a reading specialist and an adjunct reading professor I had no idea the good fortune that would await me in the form of effective literacy partnerships. I will share some highlights from those partnerships, and hope that they will provide you with examples of effective literacy practices to consider as you begin the 2013-14 school year.
The first of the partnerships came from StudioSTL; Beth Ketcher is the founder and director. This summer Beth provided a site for my UMSL practicum students to learn about differentiation. The location was the Clay elementary school in the city. The students were urban high school sophomores enrolled in a summer program for Kingdom House. The StudioSTL piece was part of the larger Kingdom house summer project. The students created their own newspaper over a six-week period. The project used a workshop model. Beth’s staff provided mini- lessons, while my practicum students provided writing conferences. The newspaper motif allowed for a natural differentiation. Some students wrote about sports, some about entertainment, some did hard news and political commentary. Most of the students had little or no experience with newspapers. We brought in copies of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. They learned what was going on in their area of interest. They also searched the Internet. A Post reporter came to talk to them about writing, she was inspired enough by what she saw, to do a feature story on the project. Some of their articles appeared on the link to that story. Beth printed 1000 copies of the newspaper they created. At the Kingdom House summer graduation those became hot commodities for both students and their parents. My practicum students got the autographs of the students they supported in the writing process, the autographs going right next to each student’s story. This project was classic workshop teaching. An authentic writing task, immersion in genre (the newspapers), teaching through mini lessons, teaching through conferencing, bringing the writers through all the steps in the writing process and finally a celebration that included both students and parents. For more ideas about workshop teaching and a link to the Post Dispatch story, see the resources/ annotated bibliography section at the end of the on line version of this article.
Another partnership is based on a project carried out by Susan Grigsby, a local author who has published several books. My building, Mason Elementary, has a large ESL population. She came to the 5th grade classroom in my building once a week for the full school year. She worked with all the students, but the nature of her work was designed to especially support our ESL students. Her work was underwritten by Interchange, a branch of COCA (Center of Contemporary Arts). The project was inspired by the program Poetry Inside Out (or PIO) from the Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco. Like that project, Susan had our students translate poems from their native language into English. Interpretive translation requires more than just taking words and providing their literal meaning. It also involves interpreting the words in their context and finding words in English that best convey the author’s intended meaning for the words. Susan used materials from the Center for Art of Translation to help the class carry out both the literal and interpretive translations. Like the Center’s work, our students translated selected poems from their native language into English. Unlike the Center, Susan had our students write poems in English rather than their native language. The project was a complete success. One of our students even won an award at the River of Words contest, an international poetry contest. She flew to San Francisco to collect her award. This year our building was one of the St. Louis Public schools to make full accreditation. Our language arts scores in 5th grade were the best in the building. It seems likely that this project had an influence on both those results.
Interchange also supported our building with a project that was done with our primary level ESL students. Rudy Zapf, an artist employed by Interchange, worked with Jennifer Fandel, a writer from Interchange, to do a project focused on the arts. First our students were asked to imagine their own flower. Rudy supported each student as they turned their imaginings into an actual drawing. I’ve watched Rudy at work and she is quite gifted in getting ordinary folks (myself included) to draw in extraordinary ways. When the drawings were completed the students then wrote about their flowers using poetry and other writing genres. Interchange arranged for members of two different garden clubs from Ladue to look over our students’ work. Those members took each student’s drawing and made an actual floral display inspired by those drawings. Interchange then arranged a celebration at COCA’s headquarters in University City. The artwork was professionally mounted. The writing appeared next to the artwork. The floral arrangements were placed on pedestals next to their corresponding drawings to complete the display. The students came to COCA and met with the garden club members who created their particular display. It was an amazing moment. Speaking to one of the members, one student said “You brought my flower to life”.
The common thread of all these projects is solid constructivist based teaching. The literacy tasks were authentic and geared to the child’s interest. Care was taken to go through all the steps of workshop, including whole group work, mini lessons, conferencing, sharing and celebration. Thanks to our partners we were able to do those things in a way that really helped our teaching. As you begin your school year I hope you will consider using workshop methods and will find authentic literacy tasks for your students. To help you in that endeavor an annotated bibliography and websites page can be found in the on line version of this article.
COCA (Center of Contemporary Arts) http://www.cocastl.org/
Studio STL: Write and Shine http://studiostl.org/
Center for the Art of Translation: Poetry Inside Out http://www.catranslation.org/poetry-inside-out
Post Dispatch Article
Anderson, C. (2000). How’s it going: A practical guide to conferring with student
writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman.
This is the mentor text for all teachers on how to carry conferences in reading/writing workshop. It delineates kinds of conferences and how to carry them out.
Calkins, L. (1994). The art of teaching writing.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Calkins, L. (2001). The art of teaching reading.New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, Inc.
These two books taken together form an excellent resource on how to carry out workshop teaching.
Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (1996a). Guided reading: Good first teaching for all children.
Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (1996b). Matching books to readers: Using leveled books in
guided reading, K-3. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (1999). Word Matters: Teaching phonics and spelling in the
reading/writing classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (2002). Phonics lessons: Letters, words and how they work
These books taken together provide an excellent set of resources for teachers wishing to carry out a Guided Reading Program in conjunction with an interactive writing program.
Pearson, P. (1985). Changing the face of reading comprehension instruction. The Reading
Teacher, 38 (2), 724-738.
This is a landmark piece in the history of the teaching of reading. In it Pearson outlines the principle of gradual release, which is foundational to scaffolding. He also proposes a strategic based approach to the teaching of reading, i.e. teaching students how to interact with text, and all the strategies one can employ to interact with text.