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Summer Institute For Teachers Zeroes In On Writing Strategies

Published: August 12, 2017

A number of Newtown Public Schools kindergarten to eighth grade educators participated in the “2017 Summer Institute: K-8 Writing Strategies in the Workshop Model” from July 24 to July 27. Each day educators attended presentations and workshops at Reed Intermediate School to focus on instruction and teaching ideas.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jean Evans Davila said “a lot of good dialogue” was conducted during the four-day event.

The 2017 Summer Institute began with a presentation by Jennifer Serravallo, a former teacher and author of books on literacy and writing strategies. Copies of her book The Writing Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Writers were provided for the 2017 Summer Institute, and Ms Serravallo’s presentation was designed to share further writing and teaching strategies.

After last year’s Summer Institute, Ms Davila said many teachers continued meeting with each other informally to further work on what they learned. Last year’s Summer Institute focused on differentiated reading instruction. Ms Serravallo also launched the 2016 Summer Institute with a presentation.

Rosie Maurantonio, Barbara Golub, and Maggie Beattie Roberts were facilitators for this year’s event. Educators attended breakout workshops with the facilitators throughout the program.

More than 55 educators signed up to attend this year’s Summer Institute, according to Ms Davila.

“This year I hope you find yourself very inspired,” said Ms Davila.

By the third day of the Summer Institute, Newtown Middle School seventh grade language arts teacher Brooke Nucifora observed that the Summer Institute was helping teachers realize the importance of students having a safe setting where they can be confident and take risks in their writing. For next year, she and NMS seventh grade language arts teacher Mary Connolly, who is also a English language arts co-coordinator at NMS, said they were thinking of ways to utilize space in the building to have different types of work spaces for students, such as individual writing areas or a place to display student work.

Between workshop sessions on July 26, Reed Intermediate School library/media specialist Pia Ledina said so far, “It’s a phenomenal session.” Ms Ledina said she attended workshops with Ms Roberts, who she said understood what the educators needs were and provided accordingly.

Following the event, Ms Davila said she had observed educators and the presenters throughout the workshop. She witnessed the presenters sharing usable strategies with the teachers, then saw the teachers work with each other to create more ideas.

“It’s a lot of cross pollination,” said Ms Davila. “It’s really a beautiful thing to see for education.”

Nadia Papalia, Newtown Public Schools kindergarten to eighth grade English language arts coordinator and English language arts co-coordinator at NMS, said on July 27 that the Summer Institute offered kindergarten to eighth grade teachers an opportunity to “be a part of something together, working together.”

Each day the Summer Institute began with breakfast and participants ate brunch on site, according to Ms Papalia.

“Just as our students are learning, our teachers are working collectively to enrich their instruction. Beyond this, I’m just proud of the group that came together and worked together,” said Ms Papalia.

Sandy Hook Elementary School language arts consultant Cynthia McArthur said many teachers who attended the third to fourth grade workshops with Ms Golub had positive comments on being able to collaborate with their colleagues at the various grade levels across the district.

“They also enjoyed the hand-on approach of the workshop itself,” said Ms McArthur in an e-mail. “Teachers appreciated the organizational strategies they learned as well as handy scheduling tips. Teachers from the [kindergarten to second grade] workshop with Rosie Maurantonio also commented on how beneficial it was to collaborate with their colleagues as well. Many teachers attending the workshop were at various levels of experience with the Writer’s Workshop model. Some teachers were learning for the first time, while others were revisiting the model, taking a closer look at the strategies and structures within the model.”

Reed literary specialist Pam Kohn said she attended the fifth to eighth grade workshops with Ms Roberts.

“[Ms Roberts] had us thoroughly engaged with developing our ideas as writers. Through exploration with writing some of our own childhood memories, we learned specific strategies to help our students dig deeper to develop more meaningful and significant writing,” Ms Kohn said in an e-mail. “The workshop experience culminated by teachers sharing a piece of writing illustrating strategies they had learned through the week. Teachers engaged in a gallery walk where they could look at examples of writing strategies used by [kindergarten to eighth grade] teachers.”

Next year’s Summer Institute is already being thought about, according to Ms Davila. She said the district is working with the presenters to figure out availability and the district is working to determine what is most needed in the buildings. This school year, Ms Davila said there will also be some follow-up professional development opportunities for district educators.

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