St. Margaret’s Middle School rolled out a new reading and writing curriculum for grade 6 students this year, implementing the innovative Columbia University Teachers College Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop.
For four years, St. Margaret’s Lower School has taught Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop across all grades. It is an innovative way to both learn reading and writing skills and cultivate a passion for the written word among students.
In the wake of its success in the Lower School, including with students who are now in grade 6, Middle School leaders decided the time was right to bring the curriculum to the Middle School. To further emphasize reading and writing, the disciplines were split into separate full-year classes taken by all grade 6 students beginning this year. Owen Beitner teaches grade 6 Writer’s Workshop and Rebecca Tufo moved from Lower School faculty to the Middle School to teach grade 6 Reader’s Workshop.
“We recognized that using the grade 6 year to further strengthen reading and writing skills would serve our students well across all disciplines as they move into reading and writing at increasing levels of complexity over the next seven years at St. Margaret’s,” Middle School Principal Jeannine Clarke said. “Mr. Beitner and Mrs. Tufo both have an expertise in these subjects and this curriculum, and they are excellent at teaching our students to be great readers and writers.”
While Mr. Beitner and Mrs. Tufo teach their classes separately, they coordinate their lesson plans as much as possible. The two spent time this summer mapping out their lessons for maximum collaboration—for example, timing a nonfiction book unit to coincide with an informational writing unit, or poetry reading with poetry writing. Mr. Beitner’s and Mrs. Tufo’s classrooms are next door to each other, too, so they frequently visit one another to stay in tune with each other’s classes.
To prepare for the new curriculum, Mr. Beitner and Mrs. Tufo both attended the Teachers College Summer Institute at Columbia University in New York City to further develop teaching skills over the summer.
One of the keys to the curriculum’s success is choice—students often get to choose the subject matter they write about or can choose from a lengthy list of books—which were supplied through a generous PTF grant—to read during a particular unit. That choice drives engagement and interest in the work they’re doing.
“You start to notice that students are staying in the classroom after the bell rings to keep working,” Mr. Beitner said. “They are so engaged in their assignment because they get to choose a book or writing topic that motivates them to read or write.”
Consistent with the Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop lesson models, the class time consists of a mini-lesson no longer than 10 minutes, with the rest of the class focused on individual reading or writing time while teachers circle the room and offer one-on-one feedback.
“It’s been wonderful so far,” Mrs. Tufo said. “We are excited to continue working together, using this leading curriculum to teach our students how to be the best readers and writers they can be.”