NEW YORK, Nov. 30, 2022 /PRNewswire/ —
Standing in the shadows of the recent U.S. National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) report of deteriorating math and reading skills among 4th and 8th grade students, is a small elementary school in Staten Island, New York that has seen its students perform better in the English Language Arts (ELA) state exams than many of their New York City peers.
P.S. 21-Margaret Emery-Elm Park is located in Staten Island’s North Shore community. New York State’s education department reports that 85 percent of the school’s students are economically disadvantaged.
Earlier this year, a local newspaper reported that the school’s internal assessments revealed comparable student performance since the New York City schools’ system-wide lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And now, the school’s grade 3-5 students have improved their NY State ELA proficiency rate from 11 percent in 2015, the fourth-lowest in Staten Island, to 44 percent in 2019, and then to 53 percent this year. P.S. 21’s third grade students have improved their proficiency score from 9.2 percent in 2015, to 75 percent in 2022, after passing 57 percent in 2019.
The school’s level of scholastic success counters NAEP’s statistically derived narrative that economically marginalized students have struggled most with reading.
Anthony Cosentino, P.S. 21’s principal, faced the disruptions created by the pandemic by supporting his teachers’ resiliency through lower class sizes, additional educator support, and training programs to improve student literacy. Mr. Cosentino engaged The Writing Revolution (TWR), a nonprofit organization, to provide a structured approach to teaching writing.
Mr. Cosentino, who is serving his eighth year as P.S. 21’s principal, credits the collaboration with TWR as a driver behind the school’s improvement since the 2019-20 school year. Mr. Cosentino describes TWR as an organization that “teaches critical thinking,” and “builds confidence and resilience in all of our kids via writing strategies that go across all aspects of their lives.”
The school embeds TWR instruction within multiple subject areas, including math, to provide students with a consistent approach to clearly communicating their ideas while using evidence as support.
Mr. Cosentino observed how these writing strategies have elevated “the sophistication of the discourse” among students, as well as between students and teachers.
“[The team noticed how well the students] clearly articulate their thinking, how they write their sentences and paragraphs … [T]he students feel confident that they could do anything, if they just commit to it. They’re not afraid of failure. They’re afraid of just not trying hard enough.”
Mr. Cosentino identified three enablers to his school’s literacy gains, and believes any principal can incorporate these enablers in their leadership practices.
P.S. 21 started implementing TWR strategies during the 2020 spring semester, just at the beginning of the New York City school system’s shutdown in response to the pandemic. Mr. Cosentino was among the first wave of educators in his school to enroll in the organization’s training courses.
Mr. Cosentino advises principals “dive in, be there and be present with [the teaching staff] because if “the principal is there in the training, learning, listening, responding, and participating, then [their] presence automatically establishes that this is important.” He calls his engaged level of support “enthusiasm by example.”
Mr. Cosentino advises leaders to start their training journey with a small group of teachers, and then slowly grow the program as incremental success is realized. “Go through the learning journey with them and start working out the kinks, give each other feedback, and be a small support ecosystem with each other to get better at your [TWR practice].”
“When you start scaling up little by little, you have a small support system already in place to help you grow [and sustain the initiative] throughout the school,” adds Mr. Cosentino.
Mr. Cosentino cited the importance of metrics as an approach to building confidence in the initiative among stakeholders.
“Having data that shows [TWR] is good for kids is just invaluable.”
Mr. Cosentino believes that writing builds curiosity and understanding of different ideas, and this exchange of ideas builds bridges of communication between people.
“[A student will] grow up to be an empathetic person” when they become “willing to listen to other people’s ideas and what they have to share.”
Mr. Cosentino continues to strengthen and expand his literacy initiative throughout the school.
Founded by Dr. Judith C. Hochman and based in New York City, The Writing Revolution’s mission is to enable students, especially those from historically marginalized communities, to develop writing skills, as well as the ability to read and think critically, so they will have enhanced opportunities to succeed in school, in the workplace, and in life.
TWR trains and supports teachers and school leaders in implementing the Hochman Method, an explicit set of evidence-based strategies for teaching expository writing. The method builds from sentences to compositions and is embedded in curricula across all content areas and grade levels. The organization believes that improved writing skills support the improvement of overall academic performance, and will position students with stronger personal skill sets that can help to narrow the social inequality gap. TWR has positioned writing instruction as a solution to help address the students’ learning loss that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Published in 2017, the book, The Writing Revolution: A Guide To Advancing Thinking Through Writing In All Subjects and Grades, was co-written by Dr. Hochman and Natalie Wexler. A top-seller within the educator community, The Writing Revolution has been sold throughout all 50 U.S. states, 36 countries, and more than 1,000 colleges and universities.
Through courses, workshops, and webinars, TWR’s training footprint spans North America and 17 other countries.
While TWR’s book and courses are available for purchase by any educator, school, district, and community member, the organization focuses its partnership work on educational institutions that are located within historically marginalized neighborhoods.