Brianne Miller found herself facing the same quandary every elementary school teacher faces: Pressure from administration and school board to improve students’ writing skills and escalate the district’s test scores in that area. Searching for a way to do her part, Miller was able to not only positively influence her students’ writing, but also complete an impressive research project as part of her graduate coursework.
“I was looking at (my students’) writings,” said Miller, who teaches second grade in Arcola and attends EIU with a focus on instructional curriculum in the elementary classroom. “They were short and they were choppy. They didn’t have any vivid images or descriptive words in them.”
Miller is realistic; she understands many students find writing tedious. If she wanted them to improve, she realized she needed to engage them. That led her to the idea of employing a “writer’s workshop” method in her classroom. Here is a portion of the abstract from her accompanying research paper:
This action research project evaluates the effectiveness of carefully planned writing instruction administered to six second-grade students at a central Illinois rural school. The purpose of this action research project was to determine if daily Writer’s Workshop instruction with targeted mini-lessons and activities related to considerable gains in the development of a child’s writing skills in the second grade classroom.
In order to evaluate the effectiveness of these targeted mini-lessons the researcher examined if there was a significant gain in sentence fluency and conventions. Instruments used for this action research project included a pre-writing sample and post-writing sample used to assess gains in writing after Writer’s Workshop instruction.
In a nutshell, Miller diagnosed a problem area for her students every day, focusing on that particular skill during the 15-minute “mini-lesson.” Then, she had the students practice the skill and canvassed the classroom providing help and feedback. A vital element rounded out the process: share time.
“Sharing is very important,” said Miller, who conducted this research in Spring 2012. “Those kids can get up there and feel very comfortable about their writing.”
The best part about Miller’s project is that she determined writer’s workshops were indeed effective. Her class as a whole, including the six students whose grades were monitored during the research, showed tangible improvement in its writing skills and visibly increased enthusiasm for the work.
“The kids have reacted in a positive way,” said Miller. “They love writing and they have a passion for it. They ask for it, and I think they’re more confident and comfortable in their writing. Their paragraphs flow together; their adjectives are there. I really think writer’s workshop is a format I’ll continue using.”
Miller says her faculty mentor, Carrie Dale, has been influential in her research and classroom work.
“Dr. Dale is very passionate, and I’ve taken that and applied it to my classroom,” said Miller. “Her work ethic, her passion for teaching, her dedication — it has trickled down to me.
“I feel I can go out and study anything because (EIU has) allowed me to be creative. They’ve shown me the ways I can use different resources and pull those in and learn to research in my classroom.”