Without exception, Friends School graduates become authors who communicate with confidence and clarity in a wide range of writing styles, genres and formats. From an early age, even before they are ready to use conventional spelling, students learn that they can express their ideas on paper through pictures and phonetic spelling. Teachers help students master the conventions of print (punctuation, capitalization, and spelling) as children’s mastery of reading helps them build a growing library of sight words, which they can both read and spell correctly. Using the systems outlined in Lucy Calkins’ The Art of Teaching Writing, and The 6 + 1 Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham, students hone their skills through a drafting process similar to the process adults use as we work with colleagues to revise and edit our writing.
From 1st through 4th grades spelling and conventions of print are increasingly emphasized in students’ journal entries and throughout the drafting process in Writing Workshop. Students gain confidence with public speaking in Kindergarten through 8th grade as they read their published work aloud to peers in the classroom and to parents at Quaker Cafe. As the ultimate demonstration of their mastery, during our graduation ceremony graduates deliver a polished 3-5 minute speech illustrating their most powerful transformational experiences at FSW – leaving few dry eyes in the house.
FSW Montessori Preschool Writing Program
When all of the components of language come together and the child realizes s/he can write it is what Maria Montessori called an “explosive phenomenon”.
The complex action of writing requires abilities which fall into two broad categories:
The manual ability (movement of the hand)
The mental ability (composition)
Our goal in the Montessori primary classroom is to prepare the manual and mental abilities in tandem so that a child’s eagerness to express him or herself will not be obstructed by either physical or mental limitations.
Preparation for Writing -Stepping Stones (ages 2-3)
Many exercises presented in the Stepping Stones classes prepare children for their future as writers. As students learn to grasp the “knob cylinders” with a 3-finger pincer grip, this prepares them to grip a pencil. Transferring small objects with tongs and tweezers, and carefully pouring with little pitchers helps students to build and strengthen their future pencil grip. Eventually students learn to grip crayons for “rainbow writing” and practice “writing” on chalk boards with pieces of chalk which are intentionally quite small, requiring the child to hold the chalk with a 3-finger grip. Further growth in writing preparation occurs with sandpaper letters and numbers. The child traces the rough letter with his pointer and middle fingers and that motion maps the shape of letters into his/her brain, thus building a familiarity with letter shapes to draw upon in the Stargazer class. Children’s love of stories is ignited as we read aloud in preparation for the time when they will learn to become authors themselves. Through these activities, we see our students’ interest in writing related activities grow steadily over the year.
Preparation of the Hand - Stargazer Class (ages 3-Kindergarten)
As in Stepping Stones, many of our activities prepare young fingers to hold a writing tool while also accomplishing other important objectives. This Montessori principle of indirect preparation applies to materials that require the use of the 3-finger pincer grip such as the solid knobbed cylinders, puzzle maps, geometry cabinet, tracing, and pricking. Additional indirect preparation is done through tactile exercises in the Sensorial area where students use the touch tablets and finger tracing of the geometric shapes. Some of the most important hand preparation experiences occur in the Practical Life area. As children work through sequenced steps learning to button and unbutton, zip and unzip the child is not only building a pincer grip for use with writing tools, but is also building his/her concentration, coordination, control, independence, sense of order, which are all key pre-writing skills.
Direct preparations of the hand for writing are introduced to the child both parallel to, and leading from, the above exercises. The sandpaper letters prepare the fingers for vertical strokes, progression from left to right and lightness of touch. The metal insets give perhaps the most direct preparation for the physical act of writing as the child grips color pencils to trace around a metal frame and to fill in the shape using vertical strokes from left to right. At the same time the child becomes familiar with geometric shapes and designs.
Preparation of the Mind for Writing
The child prepares for writing through many experiences in the classroom, including letter sound games, which build the understanding that words are made up of sounds. The child is then introduced to the sandpaper letters to ensure an understanding that each sound has a symbol. Students see the shape of the letter, experience the feel of how the letter shape is written, and hear the teacher pronounce its sound. Using the newly learned letter-sound associations, the child quickly discovers that these sounds can be put together in a correct order to form a word that has meaning. For example, students will learn that the word “dog” is made up of the sounds “duh”- “ah”- “guh” and that each letter represents a sound. The child learns to take words apart and then put the letters and sounds back together to form the word “dog”.
Once children have made the key letter sound connections, they are introduced to the moveable alphabet, which enables the young child to put thoughts into symbols by “writing” first a single word, then a phrase, then a complete sentence and finally a story using these cut out letters.
Expressive story writing emerges once students have spent sufficient time at school to hone their manual writing skills and solidified their letter sound connections. The “Writing Process” includes the initial use of phonetic spelling – writing words in the way they sound – to express their ideas, as well as learning to conform to conventions of print through a drafting process. Teachers help students to hone their writing to ensure that they are writing left to right, leaving spaces between words, and learning to spell commonly used words. With ongoing support and guidance from teachers, young writers are able to express themselves by creating illustrated booklets, research papers, narratives, expository pieces and poems which relate either to their school studies or their lives. The creative writing process culminates with a special Quaker Café literary presentation in which each child reads one of his or her personal written works to classmates and parents.
Seahorse Classroom--1st and 2nd grades
As students enter the Seahorse classroom, they build upon the preparations and foundations laid in the Stargazer and Stepping Stones classrooms. Over the course of the next two years, students grow from writing simple stories containing a limited number of words, to completing complex stories, often containing multiple chapters. The writing program in the Seahorse classroom is designed to not only support the acquisition of the mechanics of writing, but also to encourage students to see the world through the eyes of a writer.
Teachers ensure that students have continuous opportunities for writing practice each day, and our weekly schedule includes instruction in all aspects of writing. To solidify handwriting skills, we use the program, “Handwriting Without Tears.” Lessons in spelling, punctuation and grammar, and other conventions of print are integrated throughout the curriculum and commonly occur during morning meeting, teacher time, and at choice time centers. Each day, students practice their written expression during morning lessons and at choice time on recording sheets.
Our inquiry-based approach to writing ensures that students truly think of themselves as authors, using the writing process of drafting, revising, and polishing to bring meaningful stories to the page. The structure and goals of our Writing Workshop program are based upon Lucy Calkins' Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing. In addition to the resources listed above and others, teachers reference the NC Common Core to insure that our writing program exceeds state standards.
Sandpiper Classroom--3rd and 4th grades
3rd and 4th grade Sandpiper students expand, deepen and hone the writing skills and competencies they built in 1st and 2nd grade. Most days begin with journaling as students write either guided (e.g. “Write a description of the plant you sketched in the bog garden”) or unguided topics (e.g. “You may write about anything that is on your mind”). As students write in their journals teachers circulate to confer with individual students about their progress in writing. These conferences include guidance about next steps in spelling, punctuation, and capitalization that are unique to each individual student’s journey as a writer. The act of conferring individually with each student helps us target the right information at the right time for each student.
Building on the writing process used in the Seahorse classroom, 3rd and 4th graders engage in Writer’s Workshop 3 times each week. Inspired by Lucy Calkins' Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing, students learn to develop their voice, creativity and fluency while honing spelling, grammar and mechanical skills.Teachers use rubrics, checklists, and performance assessments to chart each student's progress.
5th Grade Classroom
In their final year in the upper elementary contained classroom, 5th grade students continue to develop their voices as authors, adding essay, research, and memoir to their writing repertoires. The teacher provides students with minilessons and confers one-on-one regularly, tailoring the program to advance each student's progress. Lucy Calkins' Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative remains at the center of the writing program, a skeleton upon which the teacher structures FSW's enriched program. The teacher uses rubrics, checklists, and performance assessments to chart each student's progress.
In 6th grade, students continue to build upon and hone their written expression. They learn how to better organize their thoughts and ideas and apply their prior knowledge of the writing process to a much broader variety of writing styles, genres and formats. The structure of the Writer’s Workshop generally consists of a short grammar lesson followed by student practice and participation, and then a period of time to work independently on a current piece while periodically conferencing with teachers and peers. Students begin to use higher order thinking skills to recognize the characteristics and techniques highlighted in the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing model and then explore how to use them most effectively in their own writing. Using this model, students are able to recognize how to carry a piece of writing through the writing process independently, continually revising and editing within one of the traits until they have developed a completed final draft ready for in class “publication.” Continued development and honing of spelling, punctuation and grammar skills are individualized through the drafting process.
In 7th and 8th grade students continue to build upon their skills using the Six Traits of Writing model. Using this and other resources teachers and students collaborate to define, assess and continually develop their writing skills, fluency and expression. We focus on the development of ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions of print within each piece of writing. Frequent self-reflection and teacher conferencing allows students to gain invaluable perspective on their ability to create high quality, engaging, and fulfilling written self-expression.
In preparation for advanced high school course work, 7th and 8th grade students learn to manage multiple assignments and projects, selecting and developing a topic, effectively addressing particular demands and audiences, and collaborating with peers and teachers to integrate their wide range of writing and communication skills into their projects in all content areas. As they gain adult-like confidence in their written expression, students develop sophistication and maturity as communicators, which in turn builds critical thinking skills that help them with daily real life challenges. The planning and decision making practice that they have built through the writing process ensures that they become independent problem solvers and communicators who can function both in the classroom and beyond. As final proof of mastery, each graduate speaks his or her own truth, in their own voice, as they present their 8th grade speech at graduation.