To empower each of our students to find their writing "voice," The Guild School has implemented an innovative curriculum to help them express their thoughts on topics of their own choosing.

The Guild's speech and language department launched the First Author curriculum in June for a group of six students with varying communications, writing and cognitive abilities, and has since expanded the program to four classrooms. Plans are to implement First Author throughout the school in 2020.

“First Author will support our efforts to teach beginning writing skills to students at all ability levels and help them understand that they are writers themselves and have a voice that deserves to be heard,” says Katherine Beatty, interim manager of The Guild’s speech and language department. “In addition to enhancing their writing skills, the curriculum will contribute to developing our students’ social and behavioral skills and build further connections with their peers.”

Members of the speech and language department learned about First Author during a presentation by curriculum co-developer Janet Sturm while attending the American Speech and Hearing Association Convention in November 2018 in Boston.

Before instituting First Author at The Guild, the speech and language team trained classroom teaching staff on ways to gather baseline data, assess and monitor student progress, and support students during writing time.

As part of the curriculum, classroom teachers lead a mini-lesson each day on topics such as “Saying more!” and “Being a fearless speller,” which is followed by student writing time. Students choose their topic, where they want to write and with whom they want to write. Depending on each student’s abilities, the writing ranges from using pencil and paper to pointing to letters on an alphabet board to using an augmentative alternative communication device.

At the end of the week, each student is invited to share one writing sample from their weekly collection with their peers while sitting in the “author’s chair” – a dedicated place of honor where all attention is placed on the presenting author. Classmates are encouraged to applaud and offer comments and questions. Through this exercise, the student authors learn that their voice can have an impact on others.

“We are very excited about the potential of the First Author curriculum,” Katherine says. “It is our goal to expand First Author across all classrooms so every student has the opportunity to be an author and find their voice!