How do you feel about launching writing workshop? I have found that writing workshop is one of those things that teachers LOVE or detest! I developed a framework after hearing “Mrs. Taaaaaabb!!!” for the 456th time in one writing workshop session and I want to share it with you!
Writing Workshop, Before
I can remember trying to launch my writing workshop one year. Let me set the scene.
I taught a mini-lesson. I modeled the strategy. I asked for a thumbs up to make sure that the students were ready to go. I sent them off to work, and guess what? They wrote!
Well…they wrote for a whole two minutes before the first hand went up. I ran over and asked how I could help.
“I can’t think of anything to write.” the student mumbled.
From there, I spent the next 5-7 minutes helping a single student come up with ideas. Then, I helped this student get some sentences on the page (correcting mistakes along the way). It was a little taxing, but not too bad. I assured this student that they’d be fine to keep going as they reluctantly nodded. As I stood up to leave, I spun around to find no less than 6 more little hands waving in the air. They ALL needed me. I was the gatekeeper. From there, I tried creating schedules to meet with writers, conferring, and more. None of it was giving the independence and effectiveness that I was looking for. And y’all? I was tired. TAHD, darling.
Enter: The Writing Process
I figured that if students knew how to produce a piece of writing, I would be free to coach my students on the art of writing. I didn’t want to spend my days telling students to erase passages and rewrite them. I wasn’t interested in a year full of writing prompt assignments. I needed to empower my students.
So, I decided to enable my students to move through the writing process. Not only that, but I wanted them to move through the process without depending on me. I launched this framework in the middle of the year and haven’t looked back. I can’t wait to share it with you… let’s dig in!
Student Independence in Writing Workshop
Student independence is key in this writing workshop framework. We want students who are able to see a piece of writing through to the end on their own! How can we achieve this? Well, first, we make the writing process digestible. We do this by reciting and memorizing the Writing Process Chant. Once students know the chant, they learn specific steps that they need to complete on each level. Watch the chant by clicking the post below:
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Memorizing the Writing Process
Why should students know the writing process? Knowing the writing process can reduce the writing anxiety that many students feel when we tell them to “write.” This quote sums it up wonderfully:
By knowing that you have a series of separate steps you can follow that break the intimidating task of “WRITING” down into manageable parts, you will feel much less anxiety and struggle in writing. –Source
The beauty of memorizing the writing process chant is threefold:
1. The students will internalize it and will carry it with them for life, honestly! We all use some form of the writing process when we write. It’s a great concept to internalize.
2. Students will have a foundational understanding of words like “edit,” “revise,” and “publish.” When it’s time to get specific and break those concepts down, they will have an understanding. For example, if I ask “What’s revising?” the students will all respond with “make it better!” This is, of course, a simplified explanation of revision, but it gives students enough information to build upon.
3. The writing process becomes the gatekeeper, not the teacher. No longer is there a need to ask the teacher for permission to move on. The writing process steps is all the permission that they need.
Let’s get into the checklists that accompany each step of the writing process. These checklists are critical for student independence in the writing workshop. The steps require students to prove that they are ready to move to the next level. At the end of each step, there is a prompt that will ask them to check in with a peer (not the teacher!)
The items on each checklist must be explicitly taught over time. Once the students become familiar, the requirements almost become automatic for the students. They truly begin to take on the role of an author once they are empowered with the process!
Another critical part of the writing process is the supplies needed for each level. In my classroom, any materials required for students to complete a certain level are stored and accessible for student use. As with anything, clear expectations for how to return the materials will be necessary. Look at the images below to see exactly what we include in our writing supply centers.
The Writing Board and Writing Zone Tables
One thing that I hear from many teachers is that the management of students on different levels of the writing process is difficult to manage. I use a visual writing process board to keep track of where students are. Students move their own picture around the writing process board when they are ready. They also sit at a designated table based on which step they are on.
We do this because:
1. I am able to see at-a-glance which students are on a particular level. This is helpful if I want to do a quick strategy group. It is easier to assess students on a particular skill when the students are working on the same thing. I can check the board and then walk from table to table to see how students are doing. I have a clipboard at the ready to assess and coach students if needed.
2. The students are able to see who they can go to for support and who they should be sitting with for that day. As I mentioned before, I have my students sit in the same area. There are tables designated for each level… and those don’t change. When a student has met the success criteria for a particular level, THEY are to go and move their picture. They also move to the next table!
The work done upfront is critical for students to see success with this framework. Once it’s in place, the students will soar!
Here is an image of students working in various zones. These are the areas that students write based on the level they are on for that day. When they are done, they simply gather their items, head to the writing process board to move their picture, and move on to the next writing table. Students are able to support each other in these zones because they are all working on the same thing. It’s so simple!
What does Launching the Writing Workshop actually look like?
We begin reciting the writing process from the first week of school. As we are learning, we begin to ease into our units.
We send home letters so that families and caregivers are familiar with the work that will be happening. Each lesson is displayed on a virtual screen. After each lesson, a quick check for understanding is used for assessment.
Depending on the unit, the students are sent off to write. Some units are genre-specific, and others aren’t. At the beginning of the year, the focus is on the process of writing, so the unit is not genre-specific. The students may choose to write about any topic that they like so long as they produce a piece of writing.
How long is your writing workshop?
I’ve had years where I had to squeeze writing in a 20-minute block and other blissful years where I had 45-50 minutes. The key is to keep the writing time as close to the following:
Quick Check/Assessment: 5%
You’ll need to work those loose ratios out for your writing time, but in general, I try to keep my schedule close to:
Quick Check/Assessment: 5 mins
Independent Writing: 30 mins
What does the rest of the year look like? Click on any of these images to find out!