Nurturing & Nudging Independence

Last weekend at NCTE, I had the pleasure of attending a session co-led by Patrick Allen, author of Conferring: The Keystone of Reader’s Workshop.  Patrick shared  some questions that he and one of his co-presenters, Troy Rushmore, asked their third and fourth grade students about independent reading in order to get a sense of how their students felt about reading independently.  Their students’ responses, which were synthesized from their written responses into a short video and shared with those of us who attended the session, allowed me to understand how their students viewed themselves as readers.  To that end, their responses allowed me to get a better sense of what’s being taught and valued in their reading workshops.

It’s important for us to get a sense of how students feel about writing independently too.  Therefore, last Sunday I ran into Patrick and asked him if I could slightly adapt the questions he and Troy posed to their students here on Two Writing Teachers.  (Fortunately, he said yes!)

In order to get a better sense of why your students write and so that you can determine what they’re really thinking about writing, you can pose the following five questions to your students.  Their answers will not only allow you to gauge their commitment to independence, within the context of the writing workshop, but it will also provide you with insights into your students that will help you when you confer with them.

  1. What encourages me to be an independent writer?
  2. What is it about our classroom that helps develop my independence?
  3. What happens inside my brain when I write?
  4. When I’m writing on my own I know I’m independent when…
  5. If I went to a new classroom and my teacher asked me “How will you prove to me that you’re a wise, independent writer?” I would tell him/her…

Finally, Patrick told us that he brainstormed what words like “encourages” and “develop” really meant with his students before he had them answer these questions in writing.  I think that’s a wise thing to do so that students really understand what it is you’re asking them (which will therefore lead to more meaningful and honest responses).