The Writing Academy is brain-based and addresses the six traits of writing. We present our workshops like we want the teachers in our workshops to use our process with their students: they hear it, they see it, and they do it. Throughout our seminars we point out the ways TWA uses brain-research. We ask teachers to share the brain research with students as they teach writing. For example, the brain needs an overview and then needs to learn in small chunks. So, we ask teachers to give their students an overview of the writing process first. To have their students learn the sequence of this process, we rely on another brain compatible tidbit: classroom lessons need to have two levels of meaning. Meaning to the teacher and meaning to the student. So, to learn the sequence of the writing process, we have the students play a game (battle of the process). The teacher’s level of meaning is that the students need to know the sequence of the writing process. The students’ level of meaning it to have fun or win! Once they gain knowledge of this broad overview of the writing process, we teach effective writing in small chunks. The first small chunk is what we call “magnifying.” This is where we teach the students to take a broad topic and narrow it down so that they do not list events, but rather evoke voice and develop their ideas as they write. “Magnifying” should occur within the student’s brain each time he/she sees a broad prompt to address.The second small chunk is what we call “telescoping.” This is a concrete activity for teaching students not to go off on tangents while writing. We want this activity to spill over into their own writing, when no one is around to edit the papers for them. Instead, this will make them more independent, discerning writers. Staying on topic does not truly have set rules, such as concepts within math or grammar, therefore “telescoping” teaches students what it feels like to go off topic. They will “feel” when they “move their telescope” and self-correct. Through practicing “telescoping,” students begin to recognize what it feels like to go off topic. Once the feeling is securely in place, the student is much less likely to go off topic because it will feel “weird.” As you can see, we are taking the students through Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning. We are giving the knowledge, expecting comprehension, looking for application, and striving for synthesis and evaluation as they relate the strategies to their own writing. Own goal is NOT to create students who use a “cookie-cutter” approach when they write, but rather to foster confidence so that each student’s individuality shines through in every writing endeavor!The next small chunk is “linear” vs. “starred” writing. This is the method we use to show students how to get depth in their writing rather than just listing event after event. We begin with oral language, and multiple visual demonstrations. Five participants (or at the classroom level, 5 students) come to the front of the room and demonstrate both techniques using yarn. Once students have sufficient oral & visual practice, we do what we call “wheelies.” This step is a tactile-kinesthetic activity that takes the oral language to a written level. Now, the students are ready to apply all of this to the writing process. In order to differentiate the steps of the process, we have color-coded graphic organizers for each step of the writing process. Of course, colors and symbols are “hooks” for the brain and aid in understanding and retention. Each step of the writing process is taught in small chunks. At the rough draft level, we teach “voice” activities that engage the learner and show them how to write with the intent of evoking emotion(s) in their readers. Since there is evidence that making an activity fun uses more parts of the brain, we use games to teach VOICE. In the revising step we teach what we call “Rainbow Revision” which is a tactile method using colored pencils for the students to color code their rough drafts. The students’ rough drafts will be very colorful if they simply listed. (The central idea sentence – if stated – is always struck through in red. Each supporting sentence is a different color: yellow, then green, then orange, then purple.) This is celebrated at the Kinder, and first grade levels. However, by the end of first, and all of the way through eighth, we want to see the red central idea/controlling idea sentence followed by a clump of yellow. This means the student is starring and therefore developing his/her ideas. In grades four through eight once organization is established in the brain using the graphic organizers, we wean the students off of the graphic organizers. We do a "think aloud" with the students called Keychain Writing. This will enable students to think like an author, and therefore, write like one. At this point, students see the graphic organizers in their visual cortexes as they develop their compositions. Therefore, students have been given the resources to always access the necessary information as they write. This, of course, leads to students who develop into teenagers and adults who are not afraid of writing, in fact, they embrace it.
Each step of the writing process is measured by a rubric – the 4 Square Rubric. There is also a final, more detailed rubric that the entire paper is measured by – we offer analytical and holistic rubrics for the teachers to utilize so that students receive the best feedback possible. We also recognize the importance of including the parents in the learning process. Therefore, the rubric is sent home with a letter to mom and dad BEFORE the writing process ever begins with brainstorming. This helps to ensure that the parents and the students know what the standards are, and can work with the teacher to make the student an extraordinary writer. Students who have participated in The Writing Academy are also inundated with literature. Even after all of the strategies are taught, much can be gleaned from reading extraordinary writing pieces. We teach students to write "catchy" introductions and memorable endings by seeing how established authors do this.Writing is needed throughout all of life in a variety of arenas and it is for that reason we are so passionate about educating students in such a way that the brain can retrieve the information for a lifetime, not simply for a test.Even though listing is acceptable in writing expository essays, we teach the process (brainstorming, prewriting, developing) with the same tactile-kinesthetic approach as we do narrative. We use graphic organizers (first three-dimensional, and then two-dimensional), learning games, colorful visuals, and effective student demonstrations to hook students into liking to write expository essays and being effective informative authors.
Our Tap and Think Reading is Brain Based
Just as our Writing has always been brain based, Randi Whitney has accomplished it again! She has purposely used both sides of the brain in her unique approach to reading comprehension and retention. The right side of the brain is nourished by students drawing a scroll of the story being read, encouraging their creativity. All the while, she is careful to make the drawings simple and logical as not to leave the left brain thinkers out! As the left brain looks back at their own graphical illustrations, they see it makes sense – it is a logical representation of what was read. By going through the process, all types of students benefit from rereading the story in order to complete their scroll. This is a process they can use when reading literature or expository reports. One of our consultant’s husband serves on his city’s City Council. He now draws symbols in the margin of his thick city council packet. He reports he remembers everything, the big picture and details better. Therefore, feels he is contributes more at meetings!Brain research also tells us that modeling assists learning in all subjects. In Tap & Think Reading, the teacher models each portion before having the students engage in their scroll. Brain research also shows that students learn best in small chunks, and then they can see the whole with a deeper understanding. Tap and Think Reading is built on this. Students don’t read a passage and answer questions. They read, complete an activity, read, complete another activity, etc. By the end of scrolling, students have excellent recall, comprehension, and can retain what they have read. If they have questions at the end, it is a piece of cake because they “own” the reading passage. Brain research supports using colors to be a hook for memory. This is built into the Tap and Think Reading approach. Symbols are another hook for the brain which are used extensively in Tap and Think Reading. More importantly, brain research agrees that making reading tactile-kinesthetic and fun produces easier comprehension and more retention because it uses more parts of the brain. Randi Whitney has developed these essential components in Tap and Think Reading, just as she did in her approach to teaching writing. Whitney also agrees that a graphic organizer, such as the unique scroll she has developed, encourages reading comprehension and retention.Finally, brain research has found that when students receive frequent feedback, they learn more effectively. Tap and Think reading gives students the chance to get feedback from the teacher at many intervals, some feedback from other students, and most importantly they get feedback from themselves as they color code the finished scroll to indicate which parts of their work they are utilizing to answer questions regarding the passage.