Launching into a Great Year of Reading and Writing
Teachers are getting this year off on the right foot with an exciting Language Arts launch across grades K-8.
English Language Arts Program Coordinator and teacher Martha Curran said the launch is designed to get students excited and engaged in reading and writing, a spirit that will hopefully carry throughout the whole year.
“The reality is that not everyone loves reading and writing, especially as they reach the middle grades, so our goal is to find a way, in these first few weeks of school, to bring those skills to our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in a way that is engaging to them,” she said. “At the same time, teachers are working to build a culture of community in the classroom where students feel safe to express their thoughts about reading and share their written pieces, which are often quite personal.”
During the launch, students and teachers engage in various reading and writing activities designed to help students want to read and want to put a pen to paper. For reading, some activities might include having a teacher read part of a book out loud, having quiet reading time, having students form book groups and self-directed activities such as goal setting, perhaps even through something called book bingo. Here, teachers provide students with a blank bingo board where some spaces are filled in by the teacher with goals like ‘read two books by the same author’ or ‘read a different genre.’ Then the students fill in their own goals of what they want to do as readers. MPS Literacy Coach Lisa Caldwell explains, “We’re trying to foster student agency, and this is just one way to do that.”
For writing, teachers also look to engaging activities to inspire students to see writing in new and dynamic ways. Caldwell said many teachers use and activity called writing warm-ups.
“We do things called shout it out where the kids will shout out a word and you then write a story where you have to embed that word,” she said. “We do it for a few minutes at the beginning of class. The idea is to build stamina and volume and engagement and have them understand that writing isn’t always academic. It’s a great way to help them get their thoughts on paper, and by the end, you have kids who normally would not participate in class wanting to share their stories.”
Prompts during the launch vary depending on where students are developmentally. In the higher grades, like eighth, teachers also use the launch to get students talking about current events in a constructive way. “In addition to writing warm-ups, we do something we call Hot Topics,” she said. “They take an issue in the news and then ask the students what they think. We want them know they have a voice and that their voice matters. We want to teach them to express their voice through writing.”
Academic initiatives like the Launch are part of what keeps the Madison Public Schools curriculum fresh.
“The curriculum is a living, breathing thing that changes, according to the needs of the students in front of us,” Curran said. That is why the department is always coming up with new ways to develop students as readers and writers. “It might sound loose,” she says, “but it is actually empowering, a dynamic investment in our students, not only for the rest of the year, but for the rest of their reading and writing lives.”