GUEST BLOG POST: Avenues for Differentiation Through Writing Workshop

Amanda Villagómez is a 6th-8th grade language arts teacher in an eastern Oregon dual immersion charter school. She alternates teaching in English and Spanish on a weekly basis and delights in having the opportunity to watch her students continue emerging as confident bilingual, bicultural and biliterate individuals in a reading and writing workshop setting.

She is also currently a doctoral student in Boise State University’s Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with a cognate in literacy. The various roles of being a mother, teacher, and student complement each other well. She blogs about her teaching and learning at Snapshots of Mrs. V.

Another school year has come to a close, and it does not seem possible that summer break is already here. As I reflect back on my second year of implementing writing workshop, there is much I am proud of as well as multiple areas for improvement. However, one of my consistently favorite aspects of workshop is the ability to get to know writers as individuals and the flexibility of workshop components to facilitate differentiation.

While I present focus lessons to the whole class, it is through reading student writing and discussions with them, both written and orally through conferring, that I am able to truly look at my students as unique individuals. An example area of emphasis earlier this year was considering ways to catch the readers’ attention with leads. Influenced by Nancie Atwell’s Lessons that Change Writers, we talked about action, reaction, and dialogue as three methods to hook readers.

Student notes in their interactive notebooks served as a reference for the rest of the school year, and I was able to individualize the level of support for students depending on their demonstrated understandings through their writings and discussions. Some students automatically took the three ideas and started experimenting with little further explanation or support for me, in which case I was able to applaud their efforts and move on to another teaching point. Throughout the rest of the year they were conscious of leads and carefully crafting their words for impact. Other students were able to successfully create an engaging lead while it was the whole class focus but required a quick reminder at later points in the year, while others required careful scaffolding for a longer span of time, requiring multiple exposures to the concept.

The beauty of workshop is that I could celebrate the writing of each of my students while providing them the level of support they needed to continue growing as unique individuals. By taking the time to stop and notice what each of our writers can do, we can learn so much. This summer I look forward to focusing on my two daughters as writers and reflecting on how what I learn about and with them can inform my practice as a writer and teacher of writing.