I’m sitting here with a friend in a coffee and art shop, digesting one of the best burgers I’ve had in a while. My friend teaches at Madrona K-8 School in Seattle, and we’ve been chatting about her school which is comprised of mostly low-income African American students. What is particularly striking about Madrona K-8 School is that their current 8th grade class boasts the highest writing scores in the city. In the city! Higher than the affluent schools in Queen Anne!
What is the secret behind Madrona’s success? There are many contributing factors, to be sure, but it is clear that their teachers offer quality instruction. More specifically, they offer what I would argue is the best pedagogical approach to teaching writing, namely, writing workshop.
Tonight’s conversation harkens me back to a previous conversation I had with some educators on a trip to Manhattan to see writing workshop in action in District 2. One individual remarked, “This writing workshop approach might work for these kids, but I’m not sure it will work with ours.” On another occasion, a teacher exclaimed, “Writing workshop may work well for white students, but not for…”
Beginning with his book Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol has long argued that certain educational structures reinforce a “continual and standardized underrating” of young people where adults believe, “They can’t do it, couldn’t do it, wouldn’t like it, don’t deserve it…” (p. 52). Writing workshop is often dismissed due to this pervading underestimation of students of color, which I believe is one of the underlying mendacities that further reinforce and legitimize the inequitable distribution of high quality instruction in many of today’s schools.
In my work with the Center for Educational Leadership, we believe the achievement gap will be eliminated when the quality of instruction in the classroom improves. Schools like Madrona K-8 School powerfully demonstrate this. The administrators, teachers, and students that make up Madrona K-8 School inspire me. No child deserves a one-size-fits-all literacy program. Every student deserves thoughtful, non-scripted curricula. And it is the privilege and responsibility of literacy coaches to help teachers make this a reality on a daily basis.