Published October 16, 2019
When speaking with teachers at BUILD Community School about the student writing initiative piloted last school year through the school’s partnership with the Graduate School of Education, you hear words like creativity, empowerment and ownership. The teachers in this PK–8 school on Buffalo’s East Side were describing the qualities and characteristics associated with a student-centered writing program. One of the writing programs was led by David Gorlewski, clinical assistant professor from the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy.
Last fall, following an analysis of the curriculum and numerous classroom observations, Gorlewski proposed balancing BUILD’s test-preparation reading and writing activities with a student-centered writing program recommended by the National Council of Teachers of English — a proposal accepted by building principal Tanika Shedrick. Gorlewski began working with seven teacher volunteers to implement the program, which featured daily writing, student collaboration and writing for different audiences and purposes. A key program element was the establishment of a student writing portfolio system that allowed teachers and administrators to view student writing programmatically, and to gauge writing growth over time.
The approach worked so well that Shedrick asked Gorlewski to implement the writing initiative on a school-wide basis for the 2019–20 school year. The implementation began with two full days of writing instruction professional development for BUILD teachers this past August, led by Gorlewski and several BUILD faculty members.
Looking back at the pilot program, teachers were uniformly pleased with the outcomes. Third-grade teacher Meggan Broomfield notes that the program gave students “a voice,” as well as multiple opportunities to write.
“Students had a positive response because they were able to express themselves freely,” says Broomfield.
John Alessandra, a fifth-grade teacher, agrees. “Students fostered a love for writing and were given the freedom to display their creativity through a variety of writing pieces. Students were empowered to choose their own topics and they felt a sense of ownership and pride after creating their own piece and sharing it with an audience.”
Another fifth-grade teacher, Jessica Bernstein, sees a connection for students between free writing and motivation to write. “The students truly enjoyed being able to express themselves through free writing rather than being told to write about a specific topic,” says Bernstein. “And they really looked forward to writing.”
Reflecting on his experiences at BUILD last year, Gorlewski observed that students developed a positive attitude toward writing. “Perhaps the key outgrowth of this initiative is that BUILD’s students truly see themselves as writers.”
Gorlewski will be working with BUILD administrators, teachers and students throughout the 2019–20 school year providing on-site, ongoing professional development and support for this student-centered writing program.