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Powerful Schools helps children

Powerful Schools helps children become confident, lifelong writers. We do it by training their teachers. For students, it means a chance at success in our global economy — as well as a creative way to put themselves out there in the world.

  • This innovative program combines:
  • professional writing instruction
  • in-class coaching of teachers
  • volunteers trained to confer with young writers
  • workshops for teachers of any school
  • training for parents and mentors

How it works

Daily writing. Students write for about 45 minutes a day, four times a week. They start with the mechanics of writing, editing, listening and generating ideas. Every six to eight weeks, students move to a new genre, trying personal narratives, poetry, persuasive essays and more.

My students have embraced writing like never before. Powerful Writers has put our school on solid ground….
Susan Kingsbury, teacher, Graham Hill Elementary

The best writing emerges from the everyday details of students’ lives (stories include “How to Make a Burrito” and “The Day My Best Friend Moved”). When students choose their own topics, writing for real purposes and real audiences, they invest in their writing and want to grow as writers.

My writing has changed a lot this year because I feel like I was in the stories instead of me just writing. Like I was a character.

-Rosa, 4th grade, Beacon Hill Elementary

Throughout the year, students collect thoughts, memories, wishes and observations, choosing several to write and publish. They read their work aloud during monthly open mics at the Columbia City Starbucks and at invitational readings. (See calendar.)

The kids’ writing is unbelievable, by anyone’s standards. It’s not just getting by. It’s not just passable. It’s extraordinary.

-Anne Berry, Microsoft, donor

Their stories bring history to life and deepen cultural understanding.

We boarded the airplane in Vietnam. I didn’t know how to speak English. I was scared the first time I boarded, scared to meet new people. Me and my family sat close to the window. I was thinking, how would I leave my country? What would happen to my homeland? What would it be like meeting my father once more?
Natalie, 4th grade

These daily writing workshops are the heart of the Powerful Writers program. Why does it work so well? Our high expectations, strong teacher lessons, predictable structure, and an atmosphere of safety and trust that allows students to make new attempts in their writing.

I continue to see some of the best children’s writing coming from schools where Powerful Writers are at work.
Mary Ehrenworth, Deputy Director for Middle Schools,

-Teachers College, Columbia University

Students who participate not only are better prepared for writing exams and for life beyond the classroom, but they are also much more likely to say that they love writing.

Get involved!

Weekly coaching. Once a week, Powerful Writers coaches go into classrooms to teach a demonstration lesson. They model their own writing in front of students and think aloud through their writing process. Students witness, firsthand, the decisions that writers make and learn to see writing as a process of shaping and reshaping. Teachers’ skills are strengthened as well.

I wasn’t a writing teacher before I began with Powerful Writers. Each passing year, I become a better one.
Teacher, John Muir School

Our regular teachers have acquired new skills. This is how the program will have its greatest effect on our school. The impact will be both profound and lasting.

-Jeff Lee, parent, Beacon Hill Elementary

Debriefing sessions. Coaches then debrief with teachers and review, together, teachers’ follow-up lessons. Teachers bring in student work and talk about what’s working—and what’s not—in their own instruction. They ask questions, share strategies, brainstorm. This dialogue among teachers, and the collective wisdom that emerges, is critical to sustaining the great work.

This program awakens the passion for writing in us. We remember the triumphs and tragedies of our own lives as writers, and vow to make it different for our students.

-Helen Finch, Beacon Hill Elementary


Powerful Writers is modeled after methods from the prestigious Teachers College at Columbia University. Our staff developers have trained over multiple summers there.

The statistics are striking:

Students in grades 1 – 5 produce a piece of writing in response to a narrative prompt—once in the fall, before writing instruction begins, and again after nine months. The writing samples are sent to an outside assessor affiliated with the Northwest Regional Educational Lab.

Papers are scored for eight traits: ideas, organization, sentence fluency, word choice, conventions, voice, style and elaboration.

Average scores by grade level

Start of 2006: 2-8 traits not proficient
End of 2006: All 8 traits proficient

Average scores by school

Start of 2006: Only 2 of 8 traits proficient, just barely
End of 2006: All 8 traits proficient, well within the range

Start of 2007: All but 1 trait proficient (expected after a summer break)

We also evaluate our progress through student reflections, writing portfolios and teacher focus groups. Student show self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses, coupled with a positive writer’s identity.

  • 97% of students in our program identify themselves as writers
  • 73% can identify ways in which their writing has improved over the past year
  • 85% can identify aspects of their writing that need improvement