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Green Vale Teachers Inspired by "The Art of Teaching Writing"

As part of Green Vale’s commitment to writing skills, several teachers have upped the ante with additional training, inspiration, and empathy for the learner.

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2nd Grade Teacher Jessica Katsoulakis with student.

Photo by: The Green Vale School.

Old Brookville, NY - November 15, 2016 - As part of Green Vale’s commitment to writing skills, several teachers have upped the ante with additional training, inspiration, and empathy for the learner. Lower School Director Linda Gardiner made a pilgrimage to attend a workshop headlined by Lucy Calkins, the architect of the Writer’s Workshop approach and author of “The Art of Teaching Writing”, a seminal text since publication in 1994. Calkins is also the founder of the Columbia Teacher’s College think tank known as The Reading and Writing Project. This summer, 2nd Grade Teacher Jessica Katsoulakis (New Hyde Park resident) and 3rd Grade Teacher Lauren Podlas (Locust Valley resident) attended the Project’s week-long Reading & Writing Summer Institute, joining the ranks of other Green Vale teachers who have attended in the past.

This approach to literacy corresponds to the natural development of both writers and children. The ability to write well is not always innate; it is eminently teachable. Mrs. Gardiner has also been a proponent of encouraging students to have a voice and to develop their own personal style as they compose stories that matter to them.

This constructivist approach is followed by Green Vale as students generate their own texts, using material from their own lives. At Green Vale, comfort with the ideation and writing process is a point of emphasis, so that children can become “senders” of information and thinking, not simply “receivers”.

Mrs. Gardiner appreciates The Reading and Writing Project for taking what used to exist only as a theoretical, academic text and making it more practical. Some of the premises include:

  • Seeing yourself as a writer is a gift that lets you look at life differently (processing experience to retell)
  • Know yourself as someone who does the work of a writer
  • See life experiences as writing opportunities
  • Write in all kinds of genres
  • Drafting, editing, and revising are each different critical steps.
  • When editing and revising, we shift from being a writer to a reader.
  • Outside reading makes us better writers.

3rd Grade Teacher Lauren Podlas with student. Photo by: The Green Vale School.

At the Summer Institute, Mrs. Katsoulakis and Ms. Podlas experienced — in a very real and literal fashion — what it is to be a student of writing. For a week, they became a 2nd and a 3rd Grader. They sat with others on the floor of a classroom, blank notebook in hand, and did the work of students while observing a master teacher help cultivate and optimize their output.

Mrs. Katsoulakis reports that her teaching has been transformed: “I never thought of myself as a writer until I had to sit in the shoes of second grader. I wrote a story, conferenced with my teacher and learned how to zoom in on the most important part and expand it. So far, I am already seeing more success in my students’ writing. They are extra motivated to write because of my newfound energy that I bring to teaching writing.”

Ms. Podlas echoes this enthusiasm, while admitting that the Institute program was incredibly intensive with long days and evening assignments. “What I enjoyed most was spending the afternoon in grade-specific groups with educators from across the country. In these groups, we were taught the writing curriculum in the manner that we would use with our 3rd Graders ... Most importantly, I’ve taken back with me empathy and a true “walk in a 3rd Grader’s shoes” when it comes to writing. At the end of most days, Jessica and I would ride the subway back, exchanging thoughts on our day and our minds would be exploding with ideas and inspiration.”

Although she did not sit on the floor, Mrs. Gardiner came away from her conference prepared to undertake a fresh look at writing instruction in Lower School. She reported back to the faculty: “Everything in our lives is grist for writing. We can help students choose to see their lives as treasures, treasure troves filled with wonder. If you can get a child to see themselves as doing important work in their writing, of creating something beautiful, leaving a piece of themselves on a page to share with others, then you are doing amazing work. In an era in which the written word seems cheapened, it’s still powerful and important.”

The Green Vale School, located in Old Brookville, Long Island, is an independent school specializing in Early Childhood through Middle School situated on a 40-acre campus on the doorstep of New York City.

Green Vale has been providing students with an uncommon core of academic excellence and character development since 1923 – inspiring students to excel, to lead and to care.