Pam Kohlhoff Blog

October 12, 2016 3:05 pm Published by
Editor’s Note: Among JBFC’s many visitors this past summer, was Pam Kohlhoff, a teacher from the Bronxville School in New York. The Bronxville School has had a long-standing relationship with JBFC, bringing groups of students to our campus in Tanzania since 2009. We have many wonderful supporters from the Bronxville area, and were so thrilled that Pam Kohlhoff was able to visit this year after hearing about JBFC for so long. While on campus, Pam hosted a Writer’s Workshop for the 3rd Grade students from Joseph and Mary Primary School. Here is her story.

As a third grade teacher at the Bronxville School in New York I’ve had the chance to learn about JBFC through the testimony of local students and families who have close ties with the JBFC family. For several years now I dreamed of visiting the school and this summer my dream became a reality. Along with two rising seniors from Bronxville High School, I spent fourteen days at JBFC and I must say it was one of the highlights of my entire teaching career of 31 years!

When asked what I wanted to do while visiting, I knew the answer instantly. I wanted to hear these kids tell their stories. I wanted to learn as much as I could about their lives, family, school life and culture. So I decided to “launch” a Writer’s Workshop based on work done by the well-respected researcher, educator and writer Lucy Calkins. The philosophy behind a Writer’s Workshop and Lucy’s work is that children should generate personal pieces, using material from their own lives.

As I prepared for the trip, I thought about some of the texts I’ve used over the years to motivate and inspire students to think about what makes a good personal narrative. Titles such as Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco and Come on Rain by Karen Hess were among the books I carried from Bronxville to Tanzania knowing I would offer them as models for the children.

Once there, it was so much fun to watch the faces of the kids as they sat on the floor in group. I especially loved how they wanted to read and reread the books throughout the week. After each day, I donated a book to my host teacher, Judy, and she was extremely grateful.

Lucy and Nan, the Bronxville rising seniors who worked on this project were so excited to bring materials to the JBFC so each student could have their own “notebook”—a sacred place to keep their stories. I was thrilled, too! We handed out traditional black and white marble composition books and materials such as magazine photos and stickers so the kids could “personalize” them. This was VERY exciting for the students. Lucy and Nan even brought a Polaroid Camera along so they could take pictures of each student and then add the photo to the cover of their book for the ultimate personalizing touch.

Throughout the week, we read and wrote stories about people, places and small moments that we consider important and memorable. The last step was asking kids to share their writing with the group. This was something new for them. At the end of each writing period, students volunteered to share their story and had the privilege of sitting in the “Author’s Chair.” At first, they were very shy and hesitant. But by the end of the first session, the kids were so excited they were all begging for a turn!

As I look back at my time at JBFC, I keep thinking of how proud the students were to tell their story and to realize that they had an authentic audience. During my last mini lesson with the kids, I asked them to promise to write often and to realize that everything they have to say counts. I have a feeling, one day, I just might see a published book displayed in a library or bookstore written by someone in Miss Judy’s third grade class at JBFC.

Guest Blogger, Pam Kohlhoff, teaches the 3rd Grade at the Bronxville School in New York.

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