"[Writer's Workshop] is not really a program, but a structure for teaching the reading and the writing and it spills over into all the other content areas," said Director of Curriculum Peggy Cowan. "The strength of the structure is the combination of the reading and writing components, because a really strong, proficient reader is also a strong writer ... you have to be able to do both to be literate."
Writer's Workshop is practiced in schools across the country and is implemented throughout the curriculum before students venture into high school. Cartersville Elementary School writing coach Beth Weathersby explained Writer's Workshop emphasizes daily writing and analysis of the work.
"The Georgia Performance Standards want kids writing narrative, informational, persuasive and what they call 'response to literature,' so this is the way we accomplish that in teaching those standards," Weathersby said.
Weathersby and Cowan said the goal of Writer's Workshop is for students to learn how to consistently be good readers and writers. Weathersby said students aren't necessarily writing a story every day, but, for example, could be working on drafting their ideas.
"It's a philosophy of how kids learn, and there's a huge connection between reading and writing," Weathersby said. "... What we've found is the more kids write, it slows down the learning a little bit and makes them think about what they're reading and they're formulating their thoughts on paper."
Cowan echoed her statements.
"One of the reasons we chose to pursue this was the research is very clear about the importance of reading and writing instruction and how that is introduced to the students, and this methodology follows exactly what research says is best for children," Cowan said.
She said the results of Writer's Workshop can be seen through students writing and their performance on writing tests. All students who entered high school before 2011 have to pass the writing portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Tests in order to receive their diploma and Cartersville regularly meets and exceeds the reading and English Language Arts portion of the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests.
"We have seen student achievement improve considerably. When you see how these children write, its phenomenal," Cowan said. "It's considerably more advanced than children 10 years ago at the same grade level."
Weathersby said having students take an active role in showing they comprehend what they are learning is an integral element to Writer's Workshop.
"In terms of thinking about their writing, it makes them think more deeply about their learning, but it also forces them to use the conventions of writing, so instead of filling out work sheets with nouns and verbs, you have to use them," Weathersby said.
Cowan said proficiency with writing was necessary for students to excel in other areas.
"In order to understand all content areas, math, science and social studies, you have to be able to read," Cowan said. "You have to be able to express your knowledge in a written form or some means of communication, and therefore writing and reading are the fundamental skills needed to be competent in any content area."
Weathersby provided a scenario in which a teacher uses a Writer's Workshop exercise.
"A particular lesson might be, 'I'm trying to teach students characters so they can understand the plot. ... And now I'm going to go into a story of my own and see if I can mimic anything she did as a writer," Weathersby said. "... We know what the plot of the story is about and where it's going with the climax and the resolution, but how does the author get us there, what are they doing as a writer and can I mimic that because all writers mimic each other for style ... and children are really good at that, especially if you can read to them the kinds of literature and the kinds of examples that really get their attention."
Cowan credited both students and teachers for their efforts in making Writer's Workshop successful.
"What we see now is we see a child that has the skills to become a successful learner no matter what he or she is doing. ... our teachers, for the last five years, have been through extensive training in [Writer's Workshop]. You can't just go and get training for a week and think you're successful," Cowan said. "This requires a lot of intensive training ... which our teachers have all embraced because they see the difference it's making with our children."