Writer’s Workshops: What I do probably doesn’t count, Part One.

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So Twitter happened the other day, and here I am writing about Writer’s Workshops. That’s right, Writer’s Workshops. An idea/process/program/whatever that I’ve really never thought about more than just writing those two words on my board to denote a quiet time for my students to write. In the classroom. Quietly.

Aside from that, the idea has never really been more than that. At least not in real life practice.

But thoughts were forced out of my head after reading an article about a Writer’s Workshop Station Rotation model that a friend of mine (@CoriOrlando1) asked me to comment on.

Anyway, I’m grateful for the forced metacognition about my idea, my version of a Writer’s Workshop. So, without further adieu, here we go…

I don’t do anything remotely related to a Writer’s Workshop (from now on, WW) until I’ve collected at least two or three pieces of writing from my students. I collect one on the first or second day of school in the form of a hand-written letter to themselves, that will be handed back during the last week of school; then a few weeks later I collect their first Article of the Week response using the They Say/I Say argumentative response template.

Once I get a broad overview of the writing they are coming to me with, I then formulate a strategy to hit the main/major/most-often-made writing/grammar/mechanics mistakes I see as an overall group of writers. At that point, I’m looking for a few basic skills that will give us the most and quickest change right up front. I’ll choose a series of mini lessons from Mechanics Instruction That Sticks that fit what they need for their writing right now.

During the next writing assignments, and on to the end of the year, we will work with the lessons that they need through mechanics work in isolation, examples of good and bad writing, and their own authentic writing. As the year progresses, and as they produce more and more pieces, the writing instruction becomes more and more tailored to each writer’s individual needs.It’s within this broad overview of what my version of the WW looks like that I will break down the steps and spend more time illustrating them and what they look like in my classroom as best as I can.

I know, this is a very broad overview of what my version of the WW looks like. I told you already in the title, what I do probably doesn’t count as an official WW, as laid out in the many articles I’ve read. And it’s definitely NOT a station rotation model. However, and in spite of, I will break down my process as best I can and spend more time illustrating the stages and what they look like in my classroom.

Stage One:

They need to write something.

A narrative is usually their next writing assignment. It’s attached to one of the stories in our Short Story Hyperdoc. We have block days on Wednesdays and Thursdays (105 min each class), and I devote 50% or more of that time to them to begin drafting their story. Drafting is the easy part, no instruction during this time, they just need to get the words out of their head onto the page, all nice and messy.

Before the drafting phase, they’ll spend about 30 minutes in class brainstorming ideas with themselves first, and then in groups of four or five. Collaborative idea-gathering is great for those who might not have any ideas on their own, might not think their ideas are any good, or just need some good old-fashioned group encouragement. We’ll do this with a shared doc or pencil and paper, student’s choice.

During the drafting phase, I make the rounds to every student to see what it is that they’re writing, to hear their ideas for their story, and to point out any egregious errors I see on their screen while I’m visiting. I’ll usually extend the writing to the Friday of that same week. About 30 minutes into class on that Friday, I’ll section them off into groups to read what they have of their drafts out loud to three or four other people, editing their own writing as they read.

The reading out loud is more for them than it is for the listeners. It’s good for them to hear their story verbally for a few reasons. 1) It’s easier to see/hear errors and fix them in the text when it’s spoken aloud versus reading it silently to themselves. 2) They can hear their ideas come to life for the first time since they began drafting. It’s probably the best way for them to know if their story makes any sense. 3) The get an authentic audience reaction from their peers, not from a teacher whom they think will listen to it too critically. They need and want some sort of validation.

I make the draft due the following Monday. That gives them the weekend to work through it some more if they need/want to.

Let’s recap. At this point, they’ve spent approximately 30 minutes brainstorming and talking through ideas, 50 minutes of a block day in WW Drafting Mode, plus an additional 30-ish minutes on a Friday, and 20-ish more minutes reading their drafts out loud. Little guidance, little instruction, just ideas becoming words becoming sentences becoming paragraphs becoming a messy first draft of a narrative.

And that’s when the fun begins!

Part Two and the Mechanics instruction coming soon.

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