Literacy Institute teaches students, educators new skills

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

SNELLVILLE -- As Aaron Peters tasted a grape-flavored Tootsie Pop on Wednesday, he remembered watching commercials for the hard candy lollipops.

The memory led to an idea, and a story was born.

Thirteen-year-old Aaron, one of 130 students from the South Gwinnett and Shiloh clusters participating this week in the Gwinnett County Student Literacy Institute, said he was writing a humorous story based on the TV commercials he had seen.

"Some of my stories just pop right out of my imagination, so this one came easy to me," he said.

The Student Literacy Institute uses a workshop approach to foster a love of literacy in the students, said Melanie Mount, the Institute's director. Throughout the week, students have been writing stories that they will publish.

Students of all ability levels -- from struggling to gifted readers and writers -- are participating in the Institute, which is funded by a tuition, Mount said. The teachers leading the sessions were selected based on their expertise and knowledge of reading and writing workshop.

"This program meets the students' needs because they work one-on-one with teachers in areas of their strength or weakness," Mount said.

But it wasn't just students who were learning new skills. About 500 educators attending the Gwinnett County Summer Literacy Institute for Teachers came over to observe the reading and writing workshop in action.

Amba Gee, a fifth-grade teacher at Corley Elementary School, took notes as she watched students work. Some completed the "About the Author" page of the book and others worked on drafts of their stories while they waited to meet with the teacher for an individual conference.

Gee said her professional development over the past few days has taught her a lot. Visiting the Student Literacy Institute allowed her to visualize everything she had been taught, she said.

"It does allow the opportunity to see how I can implement the best practices that Gwinnett County emphasizes," Gee said. "(By observing the workshop), you can actually imagine your class and your students and how they actually will respond to the situation and how the teacher will respond."

Susan Mazzarella, a kindergarten teacher at Sugar Hill Elementary School who was teaching at the Student Literacy Institute, said the reading and writing workshop is a good strategy to use with students -- even the young ones that are leaning to read and write.

"It's authentic learning," she said. "It engages them in the reading and writing process and teaches them to have a love for literacy."