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Literacy Studio

Literacy Studio

What is Literacy Studio?

Literacy Studio is an approach to developing increasingly sophisticated reading and writing skills and attitudes through the application of the arts, lived experience, and mentor texts. Examining the course of study over the last month in the Opal 4 classroom provides insight into this methodology.

Mentor Texts

In Literacy Studio, we write under the influence of other authors.  We read like writers, seeking guidance from the texts before us.  In this month’s study, we adopted essays culled from Charles Finn’s Wild
Delicate Seconds
.  When first introduced to the form, the students called them “Pessays” – a combination of poetry and essay.  They recognized that each of the essays involved an encounter with wildlife that led to a personal discovery.

SBM:  It seems like the animals are… teaching
him a lesson.  It’s just one little
sentence – four or six words – and it’s focused on the action and how Charles
Finn is changed.

WK:  Most people don’t think about a toad or
a spider.  They look and they think,
‘That’s not worth stopping for.’ If you saw a swan, I’d stop for that.’

AA: It’s kind
of a relationship that happened.
The people that swerved didn’t get to have that relationship.  The toad crossed for Charles Finn.

SD:  I think he’s showing a tiny bit of
frustration that they don’t notice the toad…

WK:  He’s kind of impressed – surprised at
what humans are capable of.

Levia: How can we
go out with the habit necessary for writing these pieces?

HH: You have
to be looking – keeping your eyes open – searching for things that are going to
compel you.

Lived Experience & The Arts

For their own writing, they would use the form to explore an encounter from their trip to Camp Collins that led to a personal discovery. In many ways, the Literacy Studio approach to reading and writing finds inspiration in the writing of teachers like Ellin KeeneKatie Wood Ray and Ralph Fletcher.  I see one key difference, though: As with Story Workshop, Opal teachers always ask how the arts might support our
studies.  To uncover their discoveries, the students turned to clay, India ink, and drama.



It’s like a hollow feeling when you fall down. You fall into this… you start to swing. You fall into a hole, it’s slippery inside and you have no idea what’s going on. My body shut itself down and I closed my eyes and I thought I was dreaming. I was super happy after I did it. You have to face your fears.

Following the form they identified as typical of Finn’s essays, they drafted sections focused on setting and action, spicing their writing with poetic language, building to their epiphanies.  All along the way, they looked to Finn as a teacher:

RC: When you
don’t know what to do next, you say, “Well, what would Charles Finn do?  or What would Mary Oliver do?

Levia: What are
you looking to them for?

WK: Whatever
you’re stuck on.

SBM:  If you’re feeling stuck, it’s a good
idea to read.

RC: That’s why
we have the mentor text.

RS:  We’re looking for something we can

Levia: What are
you going to steal?

AA:  I’m going to steal the mental images
and the ending line.

HH: I’m going
to steal how he uses all five senses.

NF: I’m going
to steal metaphors.

Ezra: The last
line: For me, it’s ‘Next time I’ll go higher.’

Guided by strong mentors, their lived experience, and the arts, these fifth graders are writing in their optimal zone: they are “going higher.”  As the students finish their pieces, I feel lucky to be in the right place to read them.

What do you notice about Literacy Studio?  

What values and principles do you think it reflects?

What do you wonder about literacy at Opal School?

One response to “Literacy Studio

  1. I notice children turning to th author as the true teachers. The classrrom teacher is there to point them to the author. That way, as long as you have good authors around, you have good writing mentors. Very “teach a man to fish”. The best teachers seem to get out of the way.

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