Minilessons Plant a Seed

One of the things I’m working on as a writing teacher is keeping minilessons, well, mini. As I’ve focused on this goal, I’ve realized sometimes lessons go long because I’m working toward perfection. I try to cover all of the bases so students can write in exactly-the-right-way.

It is hard to admit this to myself, even harder to face the stark words on the screen, and harder still to share this with the world.

But it’s the truth. My heart is often in the right place, yet I’m sacrificing instruction in the name of good intentions.

I’ve been trying to stop the madness. I’ve noticed it’s uncomfortable sometimes.

Today, for instance, we were discussing revision in fourth grade for the first time of the year. I was tempted down many paths for my minilesson:

  1. Model significant revision in one of my own projects.
  2. Make a chart and give a list for their notebooks of “revision possibilities.”
  3. Have them bring their writing to the meeting area and step-step-step them through revision.

None of these would have been “wrong,” but all them were under the pretense of “protecting” students from failing, or maybe more like protecting me from chaos as a room full of young writers attempted to wade through revision. In the spirit of keeping my minilessons short, and trusting the process, I settled on reading a short excerpt from Ralph Fletcher’s How Writers Work, “Chapter 9: Revision: Radical Surgery.” Then I asked the fourth graders “How do you revise?” We created a web together as a class. Eight minutes and they transitioned into independent work time.

I was nervous the instruction wasn’t direct enough and they would gloss over revision. Instead, I found students working through revision, on their own or with the help of their peers. I was rewarded in conferences with the opportunity to extend the teaching and meet specific needs. At the end of workshop, I took a handful of writing samples to the copy machine. Just in student work alone, I have a small arsenal of revision minilessons.

I learned alongside students in writing workshop today. I was reminded how true learning happens by doing. It isn’t by an elaborate minilesson that students become better writers. Instead, it is by planting a seed in a minilesson and then giving students ample time and opportunity to work as writers that they become stronger writers.