The Writing Teacher
Judith C. Hochman, EdD
Founder and Senior Faculty Member, Windward Teacher Training Institute
Educating the next generation is a high priority for most Americans, and that means it’s also a contentious issue. Judith C. Hochman, EdD, founder and senior faculty member of the Windward Teacher Training Institute (WTTI) in White Plains, has waded into those debates her entire career. While she probably won’t end the disputes, the positive results of her emphasis on writing instruction for whole schools—and her passion—are hard to deny.
Starting as a classroom teacher, Hochman, 76, eventually moved on to curriculum development, then administration, including time as the superintendent of the Greenburgh-Graham Union Free School District. Then, beginning in 1988, she spent 11 years as head of The Windward School, which specializes in educating kids with language-based learning difficulties. There, she founded WTTI at the school to codify the school’s methods for success and promulgate its educational philosophy for the mainstream—not just to parents and community members, but also teachers, who, she says, “were not getting research-based information in their graduate programs.”
Hochman believes that educational trends’ emphasis on student exploration and the teaching of themes rather than basic skills reflects an assumption that children will discover what they need to learn with minimal guidance. “The low levels of reading and math and writing skills have caused great concern,” she says. “They’re not limited to learning- and language-disabled kids. Lawyers see it in law firms. Competitive colleges see it in their incoming freshmen. Children are not going to discover what they need to succeed. The philosophy requires explicit instruction in the basic skills—writing, spelling, everything related to the language skills, including math.”
That might include lessons on how to use conjunctions to complicate an argument, writing even in science class, and weeks spent on the structure of paragraphs. Eventually, the theory goes (and it has research to back it up), better writing translates into better thinking—and better learning.
That philosophy seems to have picked up more than a few admirers. As detailed in an issue of the Atlantic magazine last year, when ideas from WTTI that had already been adopted at prestigious institutions like the Rye Country Day School were implemented at Staten Island’s failing New Dorp High School, pass rates for the English Regents surged from 67 percent in June 2009 to 89 percent in 2011, with similar results on the global-history exam. Graduation rates for this year’s class are expected to be around 80 percent—up from around 63 percent before Hochman’s ideas began to hold sway—and nearly triple the number of kids are enrolled in a program to take college-level courses as there were in 2006. “It’s one of the most dramatic turnarounds I’ve seen in my career,” says Hochman.
She hopes she can bring the success elsewhere. She’s still training educators at the Center for Educational Leadership at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs in New York City. Says Nell Scharff Panero, PhD, director of the Center, “I think of Judy as a national treasure. When I encountered her work, I was speechless. I knew that, for the first time in my education as a teacher and school reformer, I’d encountered a set of ideas and strategies that could make a difference for all levels of children. Her ideas are unbelievably absent from schools across our nation and from teacher-education programs. I taught for thirteen years and had a PhD in English Education and had never been exposed to them.”
Hochman has tried to steer clear of some of the more controversial assertions about her method. She prefers, for instance, to call it “research-based” rather than “rote” or “back-to-basics.” But, at Windward, there’s little controversy. This past summer, the school constructed a new space on Red Oak Lane in White Plains. They named it the Judith C. Hochman Building.