November 4, 2010
Dryden students let picture tell the story
Elementary schools adopt different writing methods to enhance learning, improve writing
DRYDEN — One painting showed a purple evening view where a bat flew over hills, while another showed a fiery orange sunset scene.
Second-graders in teacher Lisa Schug’s classroom at Dryden Elementary School painted the scenes and then wrote about them in the past week, brainstorming together for words and then crafting sentences alone.
“This is my sunset sky,” was the sentence that started each one-page text. Then students chose their own ways of describing the scenes.
“The gold sky is bursting with fire by the sun in the distance. I am getting sleepy,” wrote one student named Connor.
Creating art and then describing it in words comes from a teaching method called picturing writing, one of several methods Dryden Central’s three elementary schools — Freeville, Cassavant, Dryden — have adopted this year.
The district mixes elements of picturing writing and the writing methods called six traits of writing and writing process as it has tried to find ways to meet higher standards for state English language arts assessment tests.
Six traits of writing emphasizes elements such as voice, audience and fluidity.
The goal is to strengthen ELA test scores while also allowing teachers a chance to be creative and individualistic in how they approach writing lessons, which occupy a few hours per week.
Writing needs to be emphasized as much as reading, said Laura Lamash, Dryden Elementary’s assistant principal.
“Reading tends to overshadow writing, tends to take the foreground,” Lamash said Tuesday, a week after she delivered the same message to the Board of Education in a presentation.
She said teachers wanted students to understand what she calls the thinking side of writing, not just the technical side of structuring a piece.
The board and district administrators thought the 2009 test scores could be improved upon, and planned last year how reading and writing could be taught differently, Lamash said.
One committee studied reading, the other focused on writing.
They chose the methods used now, just as the state Education Department raised standards for ELA and math scores last spring.
“Six traits is the common thread among the grades,” said Joyce Ashworth, district literacy coach.
Principal David Thon said it provides a unified approach that meets state standards and the federal standards that now drive education.
Ashworth and Lamash said another key element is that students build a portfolio by the time they finish fifth grade.
Lamash said students can pick and choose writing samples for their portfolio, and that it contains finished work, not writing in draft form covered with teachers’ comments.
During Lamash’s presentation last week, board member Anderson Young said he hoped this mixed approach leads smoothly into what middle school English teachers are doing. Lamash said it does.
Board member Brian June said he was glad to see students learning not just to put words on paper but to see how the words will be interpreted by an audience of readers.
Schug’s students studied picture books that combined strong images with what Lamash called rich language.
They used watercolor and crayon to create art showing different times of day, then helped each other find words to describe them.
Students with stronger vocabularies aided other students in finding “silver dollar words,” as Schug calls them. The bat in the evening scene, for example, was “swooping” and “spiraling” against “twinkling” stars.
Schug said this creates a link between art and writing that she had not used before.
She said special education students she works with liked this method because “they take ownership of their painting, which allows them to own their writing and not be frustrated if they can’t keep up with other students.”
On the other side of the Dryden Elementary building from Schug’s room, fifth-graders in Justin DiMatteo’s classroom broke into groups to discuss how certain books used language, before writing about them.
DiMatteo said some groups receive more help from him and Michael Vail, whose title is integrated co-teacher — a teacher who offers extra instruction.
This allows students to work at their own pace and extra attention for those who need “intervention” to improve their test scores.
“We wanted something the kids would benefit from, and there is no one way to learn,” Ashworth said.
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