B.F. Norton sees success in new writing program

B.F. Norton sees success in new writing program

Third-graders Nicole Calle, left, and Keiana Reynolds work on a writing project at B.F. Norton School in Cumberland on Friday. (Valley Breeze photos by David Wuerth)

CUMBERLAND - With the help of a new writing initiative, students at B.F. Norton Elementary School are setting an example for districts nationwide on how to teach writing and critical thinking in the classroom, says Leslie Laud, expert in what educators call self-regulated strategy development.

Laud, who spoke with parents at B.F. Norton on Friday morning, said, "What's happening here is special. Every time I leave this school I'm on cloud nine."

Parents of 2nd- through 5th-grade students were invited to the elementary school to learn of their children's success and tour the various classrooms.

During the tour, students gave their parents and grandparents a rundown of what writing activities they were doing in school, and what lessons they had learned.

An expert in SRSD, Laud has provided professional development to more than 40,000 teachers on this subject, including here at B.F. Norton.

Deborah Rude, reading coach, said SRSD gives students different strategies to utilize.

In turn, those strategies put the students in charge of their own learning.

For example, Laud said, when a student writes an opinion essay, they are told to use the OREO method- opinion, responses, explanations and opinion.

Having these students remember different mnemonics allows them to put together an opinion piece without relying on the teacher for help.

Another mnemonic they use to write essays, she said, is POW - pick my ideas, organize my notes and write.

In 2nd grade, students showed their parents an essay they wrote about jellyfish.

From the introduction to the ending, the students were able to collect different information and put together a quality piece.

Laud said when she was a child, teachers would practice the "red pen" method.

"I was given a task and somehow, magically, what I had in my brain was supposed to go on the paper, and then I was given a C with a red pen," she said.

But at B. F. Norton, she told the parents, teachers are actually showing students how to write, instead of "expecting them to write."

Principal Antonio DiManna Jr. said the idea to implement SRSD at the elementary school was brought up on a hot summer afternoon in 2013.

"We were facing a lot of changes in district with teacher evaluations and we needed to decide what we were going to do for student learning objectives," he added.

With one year under his belt, he made it his priority to "understand the community," and set goals for the students.

And one of those goals, he said, was improving critical thinking and writing skills within the school.

"So we're here today to celebrate critical thinking through written expression," he told the parents. "And I want to thank everybody for supporting SRSD in the school and trusting us to implement these things in the classroom."

As schools focus on 21st century education, writing has become "one of the greatest" predictors for success in students, said Laud.

Additionally, she said, writing has the power to build confidence in students and teach them to be self-learners.

"It makes them really excited to take that precious magic that's in their brains and take it out on paper. Each of them writes and thinks differently," she said. "And writing builds thought. It builds organized, critical thinking. It works backwards. We're building the thinking of our kids."

Jalijah Upchurch, a 5th-grader at B.F. Norton, works with a Chromebook and a pen and paper as he completes a writing assignment on Friday.
Students at B.F. Norton School explain to visiting parents how new teaching methods for writing have helped them learn to write more effectively. On Friday, parents were invited to the school to hear about the new writing program and tour classrooms to see examples of students' writing.
Third-grade student Matthew Joseph explains to his mom Gina how the new writing program at Bernard F. Norton School has helped him to write more effectively.