I am participating in #SOL17. Thanks to the twowritingteachers blog team for creating this wonderful writing community!
Donald Graves suggested that writing workshop occurs at least three times a week to be effective. I agree! Of course, time for workshop every day is ideal. To carve out the time for writing daily, keep everything as simple as possible: directions, routines, conferences, and mini-lessons.
Keep the mini-lesson short so that students can get to the writing (returning to the literature hook, modeling, shared and/or guided experience). Slow down and start with the whole. Be prepared to model by writing in front of your students, but sometimes, it is okay to display a piece of your writing that you already prepared on the white board or place under a document camera.
To that end, use your writer’s notebook to develop your confidence. A teacher of writers must be a teacher who writes. Believe in yourself as a teacher of writing and as a writer yourself! Writing is simply not a spectator sport. You must jump in and play the game to truly belong to your community of writers. You will be more effective and even faster in conferences because you are a writer who experiences problems to solve that are similar to the problems your students are trying to solve.
Move on. In shared writing, accept any response and continue. Save this shared writing on chart paper or in a computer file that you can later copy for students or display. The shared writing becomes a mentor text that you and your students can return to as they are ready to revise, edit, and try out new strategies and craft moves. After the shared or guided writing, provide opportunities to meet with a small group of writers that are not ready to write independently. If the writing community gathers on a rug for the mini-lesson, ask students to remain on the rug if they still have questions or need another shared writing experience before independent writing time.
In a writing conference, focus first on meaningful content. Remember that content is the most important quality. Nothing about nothing still equals nothing! It doesn’t matter if you spell every word correctly and use correct grammar or how you punctuate or organize it. You must imagine the possibilities and develop your best ideas.
At the end of workshop, a few minutes can be designated for sharing and reflections on craft moves and how learning may be used at some future point in time. Before your writers move into independent writing, place one question on the board or chart paper for reflection. That way, the students will know what the final discussion will be about, and they can be prepared to contribute. Here are some examples of reflection questions:
- What did you learn about writing an opinion?
- What craft move did you try? How did it go?
- When/where do you think you could use this strategy again?
Ayres and Shubitz (2010) suggest that we celebrate the finished products and reflect on the work that was accomplished. Here we raise our students to a conscious level of, “I am a writer.” They include a set of questions for pre-celebration reflections, a set of questions for younger students or students who have not had a lot of experience with reflection, and a simple scale to help students try out reflection who are new to reflective practice (See Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice, 17). When students reflect on practice, they become more committed to the task of writing, more engaged. They have a writing identity, and that makes all the difference!
Regie Routman (2005) advises us to always end on a good note. When energy has peaked, that is a time to move on. She cautions us to never wait until student enthusiasm and drive have diminished. Display options for writing workshop so students know what they can do when they are finished with a piece of writing. Writers can have a conference with you or a peer. They can write something new or add to their heart map or list of writing topics. Older students can try out a memory chain. Revisiting a writer’s notebook is always a good idea! If students write in their notebooks often, they will find many short pieces that can be developed into longer ones, or take a piece of writing and rewrite it in another form (list to poem, description to friendly letter, character snapshot and anecdote to hero essay).
On a final note – use common sense in everything you do!
Ayres, Ruth and Stacey Shubitz. Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Routman, Regie. (2005) Writing Essentials: Raising Expectations and Results While Simplifying Teaching. Portsmouth, NE: Heinemann.