Our Mission in Action

The Big Picture: Writing in the Lower School

Lower School Learning Specialist Charissa Sgouros
Elisabeth Irwin believed that educating a child was not just about filling that child with information or teaching a skill for the sake of learning a skill; rather, she celebrated the idea of acquiring skills by building on a child’s curiosity and promoting engagement through purpose. This is especially evident in how writing  is taught in the lower school of LREI.
 
Beginning with the Fours, the children are constantly exposed to new experiences in class and on field trips, which are then recreated through shared discussions, drawings, and dramatic play. In the natural experience of recreation what looks to be merely scribbles on a page may actually be a story for the class, an important note for a friend, a list for shopping in dramatic play, or even a sign in the block area. At this age, through play and book reading, Fours are learning the scribbles that appear on paper carry a significance. Included in all of this is the manual manipulation of a marker or pencil or paintbrush, which is the start of developing the important small-motor hand muscles required for easily picking up future printing and cursive writing. Finally, the 4s oral language is used for both learning how to organize their ideas--through discussion and story telling--as well as manipulating sounds--by using particular hand-body movements to “live” specific sounds, priming the children’s ears and their ability to identify and manipulate sounds and rhymes. They come see how their told stories can live as text that is transcribed by their teachers. This "writing" also lives alongside their own attempts to write a key word or phrase.
 
Fours students add words and images to their storytelling notebooks.
 
By Kindergarten, the children build on the hand-body movements they learned in the 4s and begin to ascribe a specific letter to those sounds, often noting the most identifiable ones first--for example, writing CT for cat or HS for house (invented spelling). Many kindergarteners are starting to hear those middle sounds and can write full words, CAT or HOWS (house). Matching spelling to sounds at this point is valued, so as not to stifle the writer inside, but rather to encourage the flourishing of ideas. Kindergarteners’ recording of these sounds in letters is celebrated with signs and labels around the room, as well as in stories they write themselves, relying on what they already know about sounds and rhymes to record the associated letter(s) independently. Again, as in the 4s, the children’s writing is developed from their personal and shared experiences giving it true import, promoting the idea that what they create both communicates thoughts and is valued. 
 
Kindergarteners discover agency through voice and writing as they bring their
concerns about a pressing issue to the attention of Director Phil Kassen.
 
First grade begins a more formalized start to “standard” spelling and manuscript writing. The most common words are learned. More and longer writing is encouraged through trip sheets, poetry, and stories, which are shared. An emphasis is placed on writing as a tool for communicating with the world “outside” the classroom, and, along with all the writing inside the classroom, safety signs are imagined, written, and posted around the school for others to read and obey. This is also the age when conversations begin about using standard spelling versus invented spelling, and when one is best used over the other.
 
First graders write for real purposes that are connected to action and impact.
 
By Second grade, children are taught writing conventions, such as what makes up sentences and how to use different kinds to develop, emphasize, and/or convey an idea. By this time, other writing conventions become expectations, such as capital letters and punctuation--all taught to help convey meaning more clearly. Though conventions coupled with standardized spelling is evolving, the primary goal of writing remains engaging in writing for a purpose. At this point, Second graders write questions about their city and then go out into that city to try and find the answers, which are then recorded in various forms back in the classroom—labels, signs, stories, and reports.
 
Second graders writing in the field as they document learning connected to their city study.
 
Third and Fourth grades build on all that which has come before. Students use their knowledge of sound and symbol, combined with standardized spelling patterns to try out longer and more complicated words in order to express their longer and more complicated thoughts. To help convey those important messages, they are charged with developing more complex sentence structure as well as paragraphs and essays. They are also taught cursive and keyboarding in order to make the act of recording their thoughts easier and faster. The students at this age are then able to use those tools to write narratives, offering various viewpoints from history, develop opinion pieces using reason and evidence, and write articles on the happenings both in and out of school as news reporters. 
 
Third graders make detailed observational notes and reflections in Inwood Park
as they think about Manahatta from the perspective of "long ago."
 
Coming full circle, the Fourth grade news reporters take notes as they interview the Fours about the important work they do in their class, perhaps learning themselves how that work helped shape the strong foundation so essential to the whole of the writing process. These initial journalistic explorations expand to a wider range of subjects that dovetail with their social studies theme of immigration. They interview family and friends about their immigration experiences and then connect these to related and current social justice issues. They come to see writing as a tool not only for personal expression, but also for action and they take this commitment to writing for purpose with them on their writing journey into middle school and beyond.
 
 Fourth grade journalism groups edit copy as the work to meet their publication deadline.
Back