Writing Workshop instills a love of literacy at Westmere Elementary
There is nothing simple about learning the English language. It’s
fraught with phonetic inconsistencies, irregular conjugations,
homophones, homonyms. So and to don’t rhyme. Neither do cough, bough
or through. Yet, by some etymological wizardry, pony rhymes with
Traditional language acquisition is largely an immersive process.
For learners who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH), the challenges
of language acquisition — and by extension, literacy — are
compounded by a lack of access or limited exposure to spoken
Cara Wolff’s classroom at Westmere Elementary School, her second- and
third-grade DHH students are working to surmount those challenges
and develop a lasting enthusiasm for reading and writing with
Writing Workshop is a student-centered writing program structured
around short, small-group lessons, idea exchanges, guided,
independent writing time and sharing. Students work daily in writing journals and have the opportunity to write from their own
lives, experiences and interests within each topical unit.
Wolff said Literacy Coordinator Donna Lamkin has helped guide her in
developing a rich literacy program for her class. “There really
isn’t a program out there tailored for deaf children,” said Wolff.
“So, we put our heads together and came up with ways to make Writing
Workshop a foundation for our literacy curriculum.”
A laminated book illustrated with a smiling crayon face rests in a
spinning rack in Wolff’s classroom library. The book is a sampling
of works from the class’ first Writing Workshop unit, “All About
Me.” Students selected their favorite piece for inclusion in the
book. By the end of the year, the class will have a collection of
books from each unit they complete.
The next in line is a unit about autumn. To kick off the new unit, Lamkin joined the morning lesson and idea exchange. She
brought a delicata (winter) squash and some fall photos to spark discussion,
and they jumped into conversations about fall foods and holidays:
pumpkins, pilgrims, costumes and Christopher Columbus.
The fluid discussions and independent work encourage natural
differentiation in instruction, as the kids collaborate in lessons,
but contribute and write independently at their own level. The
students’ inherent love of talk and drawing sparks a motivation and
enthusiasm for the hard work of writing.
a spirited discussion about fall, both spoken and signed, the kids
grabbed their writing journals, crayons and pencils for their
independent writing time. They started by drawing. Pumpkins,
werewolves, turkeys and neighborhoods of trick-or-treaters sprang up
on the lined pages. They talked about what they were drawing and why,
carried books to their desks for reference and refined their work.
The writing followed. They persevered through sound spelling,
patiently stretching the words out, listening, watching lips move, writing and
rewriting. Throughout the independent writing time, they held their
notebooks up eagerly to share their stories with classroom staff,
visitors and each other.
“They’re seeing a purpose to writing,” says Wolff. “They have
something they want to write about, a story they want to tell. They
see how drawing is connected to writing, how writing enriches their
drawing. They’re learning to appreciate the written word, and that,
I hope, will carry over into reading.”
As if to illustrate Wolff’s hope, one student put the finishing
touches on her jack-o-lantern and slipped her journal into the bin.
With a few minutes left before snack time, she headed to the spinning
rack, lifted “All About Me” from its place and settled into the reading
corner to explore the stories she and her fellow writers created.