The Write Start program uses the first grade writing curriculum adopted by the school district. The team emphasizes self regulation and organization as the student first engages in writing. The small group format allows for monitoring of the student’s work and opportunities for immediate feedback. The writing application engages the students in writing with the same supports and interventions established during the handwriting instruction. During weeks 1-6 of the program, the team implements the writing application in the final 15 minutes of session two. During weeks 7-12 of the program, the small group rotations are eliminated and the team provides instruction in writing application activities for the 30 minutes following letter review and timed writing sample. Students’ readiness for extended writing experiences supports the increased time spent in these activities beginning in week seven. The classroom teacher determines the writing application activity with input from other Write Start team members during the collaboration and planning meeting.
The activities for weeks 1-6 should reflect the developmental level of the students. As the students enter first grade, they have emerging writing skills that enable them to engage in short, structured writing tasks. Therefore, writing application activities in the first six weeks focus on the use of the learned letters in the context of spelling words, word wall words and sentence copying with feedback about writing learned letters correctly and legibly. The students begin to generalize legible writing, to writing content.
Beginning on and around week 4 (depending on students’ readiness) students begin to write stories in a dedicated writing time (writing workshop) that at a time outside the Write Start sessions. During the writing application time within Write Start, the students continue their work on their stories with adult support. The level of adult support at this point is fairly high and includes supports such as learning to use resources in the classroom for spelling, learning strategies for sounding out words, applying writing conventions and applying handwriting skills learned in small group activities.
Beginning in week 7, the writing application time within session 2 of the Write Start program expands to 30 minutes and the small group activity rotation is eliminated. Students are now progressing in their literacy skills and are routinely constructing sentences. They are now encouraged to write narratives with a beginning, middle and end. Reinforcing handwriting legibility and conventions are embedded in the writing application activity through adult feedback and editing, self-evaluation and peer feedback.
Another important component of the writing application activity is the development of the understanding that we write to communicate to others. Activities such as writing letters and notes to others, sharing stories with peers and publishing help to develop this understanding. Students begin to see legibility as a key component of writing to communicate with others, along with content and mechanics.
Supports and Differentiation
During the collaboration and planning meetings, the instructors Write Start team reviews the individual learning needs of each student. It is important that the writing application instruction is differentiated so that the needs of all learners are met. For example, some students may need to dictate their stories to an adult, then copy the sentence that the teacher writes from their dictation. Other students may not be able to generate full sentences, but may be able to fill in word wall words from dictated sentences. Legibility supports such as modified paper, pencil grips, slant boards or alternate types of pencils may be recommended. Group assignments are also determined by student need with each group demonstrating a heterogeneous mix of skill levels. This provides opportunities for peer support and modeling, as well as allowing students who need additional support adequate teacher time. It is important that the team review each student’s skill level and design instruction and support at the ‘just right’ level, with specific plans to progress their skills.