During the past school year, fourth and fifth graders at Oliver Ellsworth Elementary School and Poquonock Elementary School in Windsor, Conn. had the opportunity to work with visiting Artist-in-Residence Dana Meachen Rau. Rau, an award-winning author, has written more than 300 books for children, most of which are non-fiction. This unique project was made possible through a grant from the Windsor Education Foundation, as well as donations from the PTOs at both schools.
Rau told the students that, in writing, they need to have a plan with main ideas and supporting details. “She compared writing non-fiction to building an ice cream shop, as students so often want to write a piece and just be done with it,” said Nancy Miner, Challenge Resource Teacher at Oliver Ellsworth Elementary School. “Dana Rau told the students that before you can serve the ice cream, you must first build the foundation and walls of the building. Continuing with the metaphor of an ice cream shop, she focused on writing revisions and adding details by showing how, as an ice cream shop gets ready to sell different flavors and toppings of ice cream, a students can ‘add flavor’ by adding details. Then, using ‘Play-Dough’ as a tool, students were able to see how they could add to or take away to make their piece of writing better.”
“Students in each class worked with Ms. Rau on hands-on activities to help them develop non-fiction writing skills,” explained Poquonock School’s Challenge Teacher Mary VanDerMeid. “The boys and girls heard about her personal experiences as a writer and author, and she shared ways that they can be effective communicators through the craft of non-fiction writing. She walked the students through the process of writing and they experienced it through activities such as creating a writing piece by using a tower of building blocks.” Using an interactive, human word web, students also were able to see just how important the foundation and structure are to writing a draft.
The Windsor teachers and students were excited as they took away hands-on strategies and materials to use in writing, noted Miner and VanDerMeid. Rau’s activities and process directly tied into the Windsor Public Schools’ district writing goals, and reinforced what the teachers are challenging students to do in their writing process on a daily basis. The students came away more empowered in their writing, as their skills were reinforced by a professional author.
For general information about the Windsor Public Schools, call (860) 687-2000 or visit www.windsorct.org.