“Writing Camp, a place where words really get on paper/Writing Camp, a place where stories come out sooner or later…” This reflection from a fourth grade student was written on the last day of the August 2014 Writing Camp for elementary and middle school students, facilitated by Audra Robb of TCRWP, and planned with Chappaqua school district administrators and teachers. The five day camp followed a similar week led by Roy Peter Clark for Chappaqua high school students, and combined intensive writing instruction for students with professional development for teachers in the morning labsites and afternoon study groups.
Productive engagement, independence, and revision were the primary areas of focus for the week, and the multi-age group and extended time for instruction allowed for many opportunities to observe and reflect on these areas of interest. Audra gave genre choice to the students after briefly introducing narrative, informational and argument writing. Students loved analyzing the double story arc of Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, by Mo Willems, and studying the varied text structures in Minecraft: Essential Handbook by Scholastic. These mentor texts shared with the class became successful tools for planning and revision and remind writing teachers to appreciate and make use of the craft of all sorts of texts.
The grade-level checklists from Writing Pathways were extremely helpful in supporting work at so many levels, as was teachers’ innovative planning of small groups, including some media-assisted instruction in the form of video clips. Partner work also played a key role, as students met with a variety of kinds of partners across the week. Picture the smallest fourth grader paired with the tallest eighth grader debating with fervor early in the week and then later in the week nestled in cozy purple chairs, side-by-side, planning ways to raise tension in the fourth grader’s story about a talking hamster and the eighth grader’s Medieval battle scene pitting the hero against a troll. A second reminder for writers and their teachers: productive partnerships can emerge when least expected.
By the end of the week, students had planned for, drafted and revised a complete (ish!) piece of writing, and they decided on one of two modes of publication: oral presentation or gallery presentation. Family and friends were invited to join this celebration and gave feedback to the writers. Over and over, parents and students asked the same question: “Can we come back to writing camp next year?” We hope so! Seeing what is possible in a week of writing camp was amazing for the writers and their teachers!