Literacy giant Donald Graves suggested that writing workshop occurs at least three times a week to be effective. I once heard him say that if you couldn't manage a minimum of three times a week, you shouldn't bother at all! Of course, time for workshop every day is ideal. Graves was an advocate for writing workshop, and his statement was a way of driving home the importance of a writing routine for our students, particularly in elementary school when they are establishing their writing identity and developing the habits of a writer. In Writing Essentials by Regie Routman, a plan to carve out time for writing daily unfolds.
Routman suggests that we try to keep everything as simple as possible(directions, routines, assignments). Most of the time, we can plan the mini-lesson to keep it short so that students can get to the writing. Sometimes, a lesson can be broken into two parts if more time is needed. When you are introducing something that is brand new to your students and important for them to grasp the concept or craft move and employ this strategy in their writing, you may need to really slow down. Rose and I talk about the Your Turn lesson and the gradual release of responsibility model that includes final reflections in all our books. These lessons are designed to teach important concepts that will move your students forward as writers. Routman refers to the Optimal Learning Model, a very similar design.
Start with the whole. 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. Move on. In shared writing, accept any response and continue.
Believe in yourself as a teacher of writing and as a writer yourself! To that end, use your writer’s notebook to develop your confidence. A teacher of writers must be a teacher who writes. The more you write, the more comfortable you will feel teaching writing! After the shared or guided writing, provide opportunities to meet with a small group of writers that are not ready to write independently. Sometimes, a little conversation with a gentle nudge is enough to get these writers ready to move on.
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 final 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 a narrative?
- What craft move did you try? How did it go?
- When/where do you think you could use this strategy again?
Always end on a good note. When energy has peaked, that is a time to move on. Never wait until student enthusiasm and drive have diminished. Post 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.
Use common sense in everything you do. Enjoy! Learn to enjoy writing workshop, and perhaps you will find that you even grow to love writing!
Source: Writing Essentials by Regie Routman, 2005
Adapted by Lynne R. Dorfman