Herricks program spurs writers

Richard Tedesco


Herricks elementary students’ writing will never be quite so elementary again with the introduction of a new system of learning the craft from a Columbia University’s Teachers College curriculum


The district’s elementary schools are in the second year of implementing the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project system in grades K through 5 with the support of a grant from the federal stimulus fund.


The system is based on the idea that writing is a life-long process in which the level of one’s skills continues to progress. Under the program, students in Herricks learn how to make choices about the structure of something they’re trying to put into words along with organizing ideas. They move through various stages of narrative and expository writing as they move through their lessons.

“The children write because they’re motivated to write,” Mary Louise Haley, principal of the Denton School, said during a presentation at last week’s Herricks school board meeting. And Haley said that motivation feeds vital aspects of their educational development.

“You can see the connection this makes to reading comprehension, to imagery and reading and even symbolism,” she said.

Sia Phillipou, a third grade teacher at Center Street, said the basis of the program is inspiring motivation that translates into words on the page.

“It’s about the love of writing. It’s about the passion for what they’re doing,” she said, recounting what she witnessed as a third grader in her class expressed his feelings about war. “His creativity shines. His voice is being heard.”

The process starts in kindergarten classes where students learn to associate pictures and sonic skills, learning words that they eventually translate into written words.

In first grade, they sketch out stories in picture form and have one-on-one peer sessions to discuss story structure with one another.

“They think, touch and tell their peers what they write about,” said Lindsay Cohart, first grade teacher at the Searingtown School. “It’s a job. Their partners feed back on their job and help them to write better.”

All three Herricks elementary schools are “project schools” in association with the Teachers College, which sends members of its staff to the schools to keep the curriculum updated.

“The staff developers come here and they give us curriculum for grades K through five,” said Debbie Linscott, reading teacher at Denton Avenue. She said the effect teachers perceive in the students’ progress is “cumulative. So as we grow with it, we see more and more results.”

Without the stimulus funds, the program wouldn’t have been initiated, according to Herricks officials.

The district received $427,000 in stimulus funding for the program, according to Herricks Superintendent of Schools John Bierwirth. The district, he said, is receiving that allocation in increments of $76,000 each year.

“It’s an expensive program and we didn’t have money to fund it,” Bierwirth told the school board members last week.

He spoke in glowing terms of the program designed to teach the grade schoolers every form of writing, including poetry.

“There is a curriculum here and it’s very child-friendly,” Bierwirth said.

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