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District Expanding K-6 Literacy Initiative

Two years ago, with the seeds of 19 volunteer elementary teachers, the District began to explore options to enhance our literacy program. Within the first year, we explored the Units of Study for Writing Workshop. The original cohort of teachers were excited with the student growth that they had seen after completing a unit of study within their classroom. This teacher excitement fueled our expansion of the literacy initiative within our district.

By the end of the 2018-2019 school year, teachers at the Kindergarten through 2nd grade level had received training in the Units of Study curriculum and workshop approach that included reading, writing and phonics. K-2 teachers should be fully implementing the units of study for these three areas; and teachers 3-6 are at varied points of implementation in writing dependent upon their training to date.

Why is this important?

Students are engaged in a curriculum that supports the New York State Next Generation Learning standards, social emotional learning as well as the lifelong habits and processes of readers, writers and thinkers. Student-centered learning that is developmentally appropriate is the heart of the curriculum and ALL students, including those with varied abilities, have access to the curriculum through workshop approach. Teachers are also better able to differentiate according to the diverse needs of the students in order to best meet their needs.

What does this look like?

The curriculum, called Units of Study, is delivered through the Workshop Model approach. Workshop model allows for direct, explicit instruction of skills and strategies in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, decoding, vocabulary, comprehension and writing.

“Direct, explicit instruction” refers to the overt, strategic planning and delivery of learning skills and strategies. These skills and strategies follow a scope and sequence in order to continue to build upon prior learning. Teachers, within the workshop model, deliver a “mini lesson,” where a skill or strategy is demonstrated. Students then move to independent time where they apply the skills/strategy demonstrated or previously demonstrated skills, in their own reading or writing work independently.

An example of a writing mini lesson might be “stretching out small moments.” During the mini lesson, the teacher would refer to a book they have been studying (mentor text), and point out to students how the author stretched out a small moment (something with enough detail that the reader can fully picture what is happening in a moment of time). The teacher does this so that students could begin to do the same type of work in their own writing. The strategy “plan across your hand” encourages students to orally tell their story naming the parts, adding details or descriptions before beginning to write. This is called orally rehearsing and is an important skill all writer (primary-intermediate) need to have in place. Next, students jot some key words or sketches on each page and then move toward writing as writing workshop continues. During independent writing, teachers confer and work in small groups to support individual student needs.

The Workshop approach creates a community environment that focuses on relationships that students have with peers, teachers, as well as growing into habits that will nourish them as individuals inside and outside of the classroom.

We are thrilled that the District is committed to this work and look forward to the point of full implementation at the K-6 grade levels soon.

How does this fit in with the District Plan?

In January 2019, the GICSD Board of Education accepted the Strategic Plan as presented by the Superintendent of Schools. One of the six main goals of the strategic plan is to foster a level of academic achievement emblematic of championship school districts. While it is often difficult to define the characteristics of a “championship school district,” there is common agreement that a championship school district is one that practices continuous improvement. Moving forward with this literacy initiative helps us to practice that continuous improvement for our students, our teachers, and our district. The Units of Study for Reading, Phonics and Writing Workshop offers embedded professional development for teachers who seek to continue to enhance their knowledge and skill set independently and through district-provided professional development, reflective of the work being done at Columbia University. As a district, this initiative offers a common language and an aligned, spiraled focus of instruction that will help our children as they transition from Sidway, to the elementary schools, to the Middle School and beyond.

Implementation Timeline:


Grades K-2 Full implementation

  • Reading, Writing and Phonics Workshop
  • Continuous Professional Development

Grade 3-6 Partial implementation

  • Writing Workshop
  • Continuous Professional Development