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Seniors share pieces of their writing past with 2nd-graders

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How do you draw a car? How do you do the dishes? How do you go into a split from a cartwheel? How do you score a touchdown? Current and former students of Meg Marsden’s second-grade class at The Learning Community answer these questions and more in their “how to” writing books that come out of Marsden’s writing workshops.

Marsden, who has been teaching second grade at B-P for almost 20 years, has been using the writing workshop approach for about 12 years. Recently she asked a few of her former students to return to her classroom to help kick off the “how to” writing workshop unit for her current second-grade class.

Each senior read their own published “how to” stories they wrote 10 years ago when they were students in Marsden’s class. She kept their writing pieces as examples for her future classes and hoped that they would someday come back to get them.

Isabella Magliocca, a senior at BPHS, started the group off by reading her writing piece titled “How to Draw a Dog.” Marsden’s current second-graders commented on how they loved Isabella’s colorful illustrations.

Senior Andie VanWormer read her book titled “Learn to Ride a Donkey.” The class roared with laughter when VanWormer offered her “riding a donkey tips,” which included: “Try not to fall off. It hurts,”  “If you’re 3 or 9, you need to be with a parent,” and “NEVER, and I mean NEVER, ever scream like a girl.”

Senior Danielle Traver read the second-graders a “how to” teaching book and a narrative. Marsden recalled that: “Ten years ago, Danielle liked to talk a lot and tell stories, so she wrote many books. People who have the gift of gab, should be writers.” Traver agreed, admitting she still does like to talk.

Traver read her story “The Mice” about when her family found baby mice in the pool cover. The class enjoyed the part of the book when Traver’s dad tried to throw the mice over the fence, but one of the mice fell on his shoulder instead.

Senior Ryan Zajaceskowski shared his books “How to Draw a Car,” which ends with “Wela (voila), you have your car!” Second-grader Jacob Siiss said he liked that ending and might use something similar for his own book.

“The conference described a practical way of teaching writing using a short mini-lesson, conferencing with students and sharing. It individualized the teaching of writing and helped all children gain a love of writing. So, I decided to try it,” Marsden said.

Writing workshop is an approach to teaching writing in which the teachers coach the students to write for a variety of audiences and purposes, which can be more effective than traditional writing instruction.  This method of instruction focuses on the goal of fostering lifelong writers. It is based on four principles — students will write about their own lives, use the writing process, work in authentic ways, and they will develop independence as writers. Marsden first tried this approach after attending a writing conference.

“As soon as I started, it only took about three lessons of narrative writing, and the kids were hooked. They started writing by themselves for 10 minutes, then 20, 30. It got to the point that we were starting to be late for specials because the kids were still writing,” Marsden said.

There are three types of writing teachers focus on: narrative, persuasive and informational, and every student at every level needs to practice all three.

“Students in second grade love to tell a story about how they went over a big jump on the sleigh riding hill that past weekend. So why not teach them how to make it more exciting, use more descriptive language to make people move and talk, and grab their audience?” Marsden said.