In our Writing Workshop lessons, students are encouraged to do what real writers do and write about what interests them. Before we introduced this model, though we never told the students what they had to write, we did often tell them what they had to write about in terms of subject matter—we integrated our writing with our humanities studies, for example. The quality of the language in the children’s writing since has improved immeasurably.
Ask any writer and they will tell you that generating ideas for writing in the first place is very often the hardest part of the entire process, and our students are no different. When students are stuck for ideas, which happens often, they are reminded to think of a place or a person or a feeling that had recently struck them. Every unit begins with generating ideas and the students keep track of these in their writer’s notebook and choose them to elaborate upon during the weeks that follow.
Whereas in the past, sending students back to their desks to revise a piece of writing gave them a clear message that it was because their current efforts were not yet up to standard, now our message is that real writers will only devote their energy and their skills to pieces of writing that they think are good enough to revise. It’s a very different lesson for the students to take on board and a far more positive one. Real writers will tinker with a piece that is worth tinkering with; the rest goes in the bin if they feel they can never take it anywhere.
This poem by Avi is a lovely example of a piece of writing inspired by an idea which resonated with him. Avi may look at it again and decide to revise it and we may even encourage him to do so. The difference will be that if we do, Avi will take that as a compliment to his work rather than as a criticism. Well done Avi for experimenting with a form of writing that was new for you as a writer.
Primary School Principal
“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela, former UWC Honorary President. When I think of South Africa I think of all the greenery, space, blue skies, my friends, safaris and the museums. I was inspired by Nelson Mandela, the Apartheid Museum and South Africa. Apartheid and the freedom struggle are a part of every museum. The exhibitions in the Apartheid Museum were very informative and interesting. They kept answering questions that I asked or thought.
I wrote a poem, Freedom, during class after I had just come back from a holiday in South Africa. It was decided soon after that holiday that we will move there for a few years. When I wrote this poem I was mostly thinking of how people were treated and how much struggle there was for freedom. I wanted to tell everybody who read the poem how things changed and how much effort went into it.
Jail, prison, political freedom,
Freedom, freedom, freedom,
When I wrote a poem for a first time I thought all poems had to rhyme and have a happy thought behind it. After I studied poetry in class I realised that I could write a poem about anything, anywhere. The idea came to me when the poetry unit was coming to an end, and I started writing poems.
Nelson Mandela and South Africa continue to inspire me. Freedom means different things to different countries and their people. Freedom to me is what brings people together.
About Readers and Writers Workshop at UWCSEA
Readers and Writers Workshop methodically and strategically teaches students to read and write in a critical way. Researched and developed by the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, the programme was adopted in the Primary School in 2011. Supported by the UWCSEA Foundation, the College has run a tailored professional development programme for staff with visiting specialists from Columbia University and expanded the model into the Middle School.