Writing: The Backbone of a Catlin Gabel Education

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By Lark Palma, head of school

We humans communicate in many ways, verbal and nonverbal, through body language, voice, visual art, dance, and infinitely on. But no other means of communication matters as much in education as the art and practice of writing. The act of gathering and analyzing thoughts, and crystallizing them into language, defines who we are and what we have learned in all disciplines, be it the sciences, the arts, or the humanities.

At Catlin Gabel we have a long history of placing serious emphasis on writing, both expository and imaginative, from our youngest to our oldest learners. Part of our students’ process in becoming bold learners involves developing the confidence and fearlessness to express their opinions and learn their own minds. They learn constantly how to clarify their thoughts in response to new information and new lessons, and how to translate that into the written word. In our high school the students improve their skills through the system of peer editing, multiple revisions, and paper conferences with teachers. By the time our students are through high school, they have pretty well mastered the art of writing creatively and academically. Ask our alumni if they were prepared for college-level writing, and the answer is usually that they were over-prepared!

I’ve seen firsthand how students grow in their written expression. The Upper School students I’ve worked with in independent studies come to me with superb skills, and because they have learned to cooperate and collaborate in their learning, they are always eager to work with me to hone those writing skills. I’m always impressed by their humility and understanding that they can always do better.

Those writing skills serve our alumni well in their adult lives, too. In this issue of the Caller you’ll read about a prolific and noted journalist who’s becoming a novelist; about a lawyer and wordsmith who became a publisher; about a young poet who teaches writing to rural youth; and a professor trained in law school who writes about women and human rights. We have many more stories to tell, beyond these fine examples.

This issue also explores exactly how Catlin Gabel teaches writing, in the words of the teachers themselves. You can see the seeds of our success in their approaches to fostering those skills, as well as the remarkable outgrowth of that learning: examples of writing from our students of all ages. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do, and celebrating the written word at Catlin Gabel.