Thinking Critically About the Writing Workshop: Reflecting on the Way I Teach Writing

I wanted to reflect on some questions my former professor, Stephanie Jones, presents at the end of chapter 11 in her book Girls, Social Class, and Literacy. She asks readers to consider some questions about the Writing Workshop that they teach.

Here are her questions and my answers:

1. How are students positioned in Writing Workshop by you, the teacher? By other students?
I position my students to have quite a bit of freedom. I ask them to write within a particular genre, but give them freedom of topic choice. I try to make them feel as though they are the authors of their lives. I call them writers. I think most of my students consider themselves as writers.
As far as the way other students position each other, I feel that they see some of their peers as stronger writers than others. When I see that happened, I try to help position strugglers in a more powerful way, using their writing as examples in my connections, demonstrations, mid-workshop interruptions and shares. I’ve noticed that when this happens, other students seek those students out for assistance.

2. Which positions are productive? Counterproductive?
Anything that gives students some ownership over their writing, is productive. However, when a student feels too powerful, “I’m the king of personal narrative writing!” something is gravely wrong.
Two years ago one of my students was deemed the “Chief of Story Surgery.” This was productive since she wasn’t cocky about it. Further, she always helped her peers cut and paste their writing back together (and helped them write more before sutchering). This was a highly productive position for her in my classroom. (Further, she was positioned as a doctor, which is a typically male role. This was my way of showing my girls that they don’t have to be nurses… they too can be doctors. In fact, heads of departments, like Chief of Surgery!)

3. Do students’ texts ever perpetuate damaging stereotypes?
Sometimes. A few years ago there was a lot of violence in my students’ fiction writing. They wanted to write about gangs and other things that they heard about from the neighbors, family members, etc. While I don’t want them writing violent pieces, I allowed it since I didn’t want to shut them down. They don’t live in a perfect world, so why should I make them write about fluff?

4. How can a critical literacy perspective help writers reconsider how and why they write texts?
Children can see they need to be sensitive to people since readers read from different places. They can try to write a text that will not marginalize their audience, if they know who their audience is. However, it’s likely that every text will position someone on the inside and someone on the outside. However, when they construct texts, I think that having a critical literacy perspective will allow them to be more sensitive when they write.