KSES teacher earns honor

Published 9:18 pm Friday, May 4, 2012

Kilby Shores Elementary educator Deborah Rasberry has been teaching for 35 years and has her first-grade students learn by writing.

A Kilby Shores Elementary School teacher’s presentation at a Virginia Department of Education event this summer might just change some opinions on whether 6-year-olds learn to write or write to learn.

After participating in the Tidewater Writing Project, a satellite of the Virginia Writing Project, in 2007, Deborah Rasberry was recently named a presenter at the 2012 SOL (Standards of Learning) Institute in English.

She will join other teachers who have been involved in the project to present writing sessions focusing on media literacy, nonfiction reading and research.

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“It (the Tidewater Writing Project at Old Dominion University) was (for) teachers that were interested in writing — I think you can say for teachers whose passion is writing,” Rasberry said.

Completing the project made Rasberry a writing consultant in the eyes of the department, she said, and she was invited to present a couple of weeks ago.

“I had to come up with a topic and include what I would cover,” she said.

Her topic, “applying the senses of the elementary writer,” is based on her experiences in the classroom.

“One day in the latter part of last year, it was an incredibly rainy day … and I had planned to go outside (with the class) and do something in the sunshine as motivation for writing,” she explained.

The kids were told they were going to write without paper and pencil and “they looked at me with astonishment.”

The children asked, “How are we going to write?”

Rasberry replied, “Listen to my directions.”

She told them to “just listen to the rain; look and watch it come down, how it splashes on the ground. I want you to smell the rain if it happens to splash on your arm; I want you to see how it falls. Before going back in, taste a raindrop.”

Back in the classroom, the children were given time to gather their thoughts.

“The kids sat there quietly, and when I gave them the OK they started raising their hands,” Rasberry recounted.

The teacher transcribed the first-graders thoughts into a book, which she describes as “absolutely wonderful!”

“If we are lucky, we might get to see a rainbow,” one child remarks in the book.

Rasberry says first-graders have great capacity to learn from writing, despite their somewhat primitive grasp of the written word.

“At the beginning of the year, students are learning to write their letters, to use their capital letters and their periods,” she said Thursday.

“But this time of year, students in my first-grade classroom are writing to learn. We have turned that around.”