Each year, Carl Wilde School 79 holds a writing camp for its 3rd grade students for six Saturdays leading up to ISTEP+. This camp is a wonderful opportunity for students to both gain more confidence and skill as writers and realize that writing can be fun.

Principal Joyce Akridge started the camp in 2009 and worked closely with Jamey Peavler, who was at that time a Language Arts Instructional Coach for Indianapolis Public Schools, to put together the activities. Principal Akridge said, “Most students at this age are reluctant writers, but when they start to enjoy it and see their pieces come to life, they are so proud of themselves.”
“Research shows that 3rd grade is a pivotal age for attitudes about writing,” Peavler agreed. “Through a camp experience, we can inform their attitudes about writing, make them realize it is not a punishment, that writing can be fun. We can build their confidence.”

 
The six-week camp covers topics like
  • Generating writing ideas
  • Planning and organizing
  • Writing persuasively and stating your opinion
  • Beginnings and endings
  • Identifying turning points or big moments

Now if that sounds a little dry, imagine those topics in a camp environment. Students are broken into small groups. Each group has a mentor, often from Second Story, a volunteer group interested in promoting writing to young people in Indianapolis. Students sing camp songs, listen to storytellers while sitting around a replicated fire glowing on the computer screen, and even have snacks and water provided by Whole Foods.
 
The idea is to make writing, and all the skills that go into writing, less intimidating for students so that when they write for the ISTEP+ or in school, they are not just ready, but excited.
 
“I liked writing stories and making a timeline for ideas to write about, and the teachers are fun!” said Sebastian D., one student in camp this year.
 
In response to one writing lesson where students had to come up with their own Willy Wonka style candy, student Kevin F. said, “I really liked my invented candy and writing about the commercial I would make to sell the candy.”
 
The program is getting results, too. Akridge has seen her 3rd grade student ISTEP+ writing scores soar under the program. “Our school is doing well with writing, period,” she said, “but 3rd grade outshines the other grades.” Over the past three school years, Akridge has seen 77% (2011-2012), 89% (2012-2013) and 84% (2013-2014) of her 3rd graders pass ISTEP+’s writing application section.
 
The plan is now to grow this success to more schools. This is the first year the writing camp is being offered at Brookside School 54, using the same curriculum and approach Peavler designed for Carl Wilde.
 
Ken Honeywell, one of the founders of Second Story, is working at Brookside. He said, “We are already beginning to see a turnaround in kids’ attitudes about writing after only two weeks. One student whose pre-camp survey said he didn’t like writing and didn’t think he was good at it told me in week two, ‘I know I’m a good writer. It’s fun to write about your ideas.’”
 
Peavler finds it encouraging to hear student attitudes change like that. “So much of what people see and judgments they make about students or their intelligence are based on how well they communicate.”
 
Writing camp gives students a chance to find their voice, improve their communication skills, and improve their school grades and ISTEP+ scores. And they are having so much fun they don’t even realize they are transforming into more confident writers and learners.

We’re happy that IPS 3rd graders at two schools are having this great chance to grow as writers and look forward to seeing this opportunity spread to other schools in the future!