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How can you ensure that your students are getting the maximum benefits from a Writing Workshop?

June 8, 2018

By: Kendall Hunt Publishing with contributions from the writing team of Pathways 2.0 Reading and Language Arts programs (grades 1-8).

Pathways 2.0: Journey to Excellence through Literacy!

Provides instruction in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. This biblically based curriculum built on the Adventist worldview and the belief that Christ is the model teacher. Pathways 2.0 recognizes the responsibility of nurturing excellence and service to others. The lessons found in each unit provide rigorous academic quality aligned with standards of proficiency in literacy.

Each week has five days of lessons centered in three instructional blocks: Word Study, Reading Workshop and Writing Workshop.

Overview

Most teachers can recall experiences with Writing Workshop from their own days in school—as a tried-and-true approach to fostering writing skills, it’s been a feature of English language arts programs at all levels, including higher education, for many years. However, whether teachers recall those experiences fondly or with anxiety likely reflects how such programs were implemented as much as individual personality factors. In your classroom, you can ensure that your students get the maximum benefit from Writing Workshop and view it as a positive, enjoyable experience!

Components

Writing Workshop generally consists of the following components:

1. Mini-lesson—the teacher provides focused instruction on a specific aspect of the writing process, technique or skill, or aspect of author’s craft.

2. Independent writing time—students work independently on a writing piece, incorporating the skills taught in mini-lessons and moving the piece from the initial stage of brainstorming and idea selection through planning, writing, revising/editing, and finished product over several lessons or weeks.

3. Review/conferencing—students have short sessions with a peer or with the teacher focused on providing feedback and constructive criticism to the author for improving the work.

4. Sharing—the final product is shared with an audience, whether informally in the classroom, such as through Author’s Chair, or through a more formal presentation or publication in a specific medium.

Benefits

Among the many benefits of Writing Workshop are the following:

·         Students learn that writing is a skill that can be learned rather than something you are “just born with”—in moving a piece through the writing process, students see that mistakes are a natural part of the process and that even the best authors write and rewrite, improving on their previous drafts. 

·         Students learn skills in an authentic context rather than in isolation, which makes the learning more meaningful—for example, when they see readers’ confusion about the meaning of a poorly constructed sentence, writers grasp that punctuation is more than just rules and serves the important purpose of conveying meaning and getting their message across as intended.

·         Students learn to appreciate constructive criticism and see it as a means of improving their writing rather than something to be feared—learning to accept criticism and use it to their advantage will benefit students far beyond the classroom, such as in their future careers.

·         Students also learn to provide feedback in a constructive manner—this can be difficult for some students, either because they have a tendency to be too blunt or, the opposite, too mild-mannered, but as with accepting criticism, being able to provide constructive feedback is an essential life skill beyond the classroom.

·         Teachers have multiple opportunities for formative assessment—for example, noting which students are struggling with a specific aspect of writing, such as using editing marks in the revising stage—and can use their observations to differentiate instruction and accommodate the needs of individual learners. 

·         For both teachers and students, Writing Workshop offers flexibility within a structured format—teachers can tailor content and instruction, and students are encouraged to make their own decisions about their work, for example, whether or not to make a revision based on peer feedback.

Tips for Implementation

Follow these tips for successful Writing Workshops in your classroom:

·         Establish a routine—follow the same routine in each workshop session, for example: (1) attention-getting introduction or read-aloud highlighting topic of mini-lesson; (2) mini-lesson on area of focus, with teacher modeling of skills; (3) independent writing time; (4) review/conferencing. Routines reduce off-task time and keep things running smoothly, allowing more time for independent writing. 

·         Allow for student choice—allowing students to explore topics of interest to them promotes authenticity. Students are more motivated to persevere in tasks that are meaningful to them, and they devote more effort to writing that has personal relevance. Prompts and sentence starters are helpful tools to get reluctant writers started, but also make sure to provide free-choice activities, such as writing about any student-selected topic within a specific genre.

·         Provide modeling—use the introduction to the mini-lesson and the mini-lesson itself as opportunities to showcase excellent writing that sparks students’ imagination and creativity. For example, when students are just beginning a fiction or short-story writing project, you might share examples of great first lines that hook reader interest—whether through humor, mystery, or the element of surprise.

·         Allow sufficient time for independent writing—generally, the mini-lesson and review/conferencing components should each take a quarter of the Writing Workshop time, and independent writing by students should make up half of the time. So if you have a one-hour block for Writing Workshop, students should be engaged in independent writing for half an hour, with 15 minutes each for mini-lesson and review/conferencing. 

·         Provide conferencing expectations—ensure that students know how to give and receive feedback. It’s helpful to give students guidelines that explain your expectations—for example, how to phrase criticism, avoid put-downs, and seek clarification on feedback.

·         Make writing enjoyable—show students the power of words: how they can make us laugh or cry, inspire us, and stir powerful emotions that drive us to action. Also, especially for younger students, find ways to add an element of fun, such as allowing students to brainstorm their ideas with markers or colored pencils, or having students select a blank postcard from your classroom collection on which to write the final draft of a short letter. 

The last point is especially important: In addition to teaching writing skills, fostering a love of writing is also a goal of Writing Workshop!