Writing Journeys: Grade 4

One chilly day this January, the distractions of the new year settle to a minimum inside one lower school classroom. Fourth grade is focused on bringing their notes on immigration to the next step in their writing journey. Students type away, busily tap, tap, tapping on keyboards. It’s nearly completely quiet; students are so focused on their writing, you could hear a pin drop.

Suiting their topic, teacher Kara Oliver travels the classroom for individual check-ins, moving around the classroom to speak with students one-on-one. “How’s everyone doing? Thumbs up or down?” she calls out. Kara sits with students, giving individual attention to each student and their piece.

Kara started at Moses Brown last fall, coming to MB from Citizens of the World Charter Schools in L.A. and her work at MB has a similar global focus, as she’s found a home here in the classroom well known for its signature immigration project.

Today, Kara’s students are writing about their own family’s immigration stories, connecting to their social studies unit on immigration.

Students are learning to write both fiction and nonfiction this year and today are learning to write persuasive, well-sourced essays: how to lead with a thesis, use rhetorical prompts, bring in evidence, structure, revise and polish to create a strong piece of finished writing.

“What do you mean? How can you explain what you’re trying to say?” Kara says, asking them to visualize evidence fitting under an umbrella as they organize information into paragraphs.

The students started with notes in their social studies’ journals and are now considering the challenges faced by immigrants to the U.S. The class are asked to consider how power and identity intersect, if people were treated fairly, and how the law was applied to new arrivals.

Students interviewed family members about their paths here. Some came to the U.S. decades ago, arriving at Ellis Island, others more recently.

Kara encourages the class to get their content down now and attend to details later. “Focus on your writing and ideas now, not your spelling. That comes last,” she says. “Don’t let your spelling and grammar get in your way right now.”

While they set aside the roadblocks of spelling (momentarily), the students consider their own family’s stories in the great wave of immigration to America, the barriers to entry their family members faced, writing about reasons for immigration, as well as the feelings in that process. They discuss the tangible, physical hardships encountered. “Immigration is a painful process. You have to go through so many tests in order to be able to come into the country,” one young writer reflects. “It’s scary because you might be sent back to your home country.”

The final stop for this writing journey will be the class’ annual immigration presentations, taking place in March.