authors · celebration · primary grades · reflections · reflective practice · units of study · writing process · writing workshop

Documenting Our Learning

Sometimes I think about the amazing work happening in writing workshops, and then wonder if anyone else notices. Sometimes the things that are most amazing are small bits that pack big meaning. Sometimes the most amazing work can be easily missed.

Often young writers’ (or even old writers’) talk is ahead of their walk. We can talk about things we want to do as writers, but it’s a little more difficult to put all those things into practice. In kindergarten, kids can tell me poets notice teeny-tiny details and that they are going to write about a blade of grass…but then their poem ends up including the blade of grass and a bug and a cloud and the sun.

I thought about how this happened in my seventh grade writing workshop too. Students could tell me how to punctuate a subordinate clause…but then in their writing, subordinate clauses were hanging out all over looking like sentence fragments.

I’ve been challenging myself to share the gamut of student work in a classroom. It seems sometimes we only share the very best. Sometimes I feel like if I want to validate the work as being really good, then I need to share the really good examples. It is hard for me to admit this in black and white because it is so far from my heart and my work with children.

In the bubble of a classroom, I’m diligent about helping the entire writing community celebrate the strengths of every member. Yet in a more public arena, such as this blog or in my presentations, I find myself sharing only the best. And what does that mean, exactly? “The best.” What’s that?

So I’ve been challenging myself to show the amazing bits that are happening in workshops. The tiny successes that lead to big meaning. Not perfect pieces of writing, but growing, learning writers. It’s pushed me to consider ways to document the easily unseen, easily missed moments in writing workshop.

All of this to say, I think I accomplished a tiny bit of this challenge to myself. In Deborah Nelson’s kindergarten class we’ve been immersed in Mo Willem’s books. As Deborah and I reflected on writing workshop, we were constantly struck by the learning and the new understandings students were gaining. The thing is, we couldn’t always tell just from their work. Their talk and actions during workshop were crucial to knowing the extensive learning that was happening. As we prepared to share our books with families and friends, I had a nagging feeling that outsiders would miss the amazing bits of learning that happened over the course of our study.

It’s the combination of sharing product and process that makes a celebration the most powerful. I’m coming to believe it is essential to help others understand the process behind the product. Our work is about much more than making cool things. Our work is about helping every single child develop the habits and skills to communicate with the world. It’s big. I tried to capture it here. (Yes, it breaks my rule of sharing videos…less than four minutes…but I’m hoping some of you will still take the time to watch it. It lays out an author study and combines students’ voices, the teacher’s voice, and my voice (as the writing coach).

Mostly I’m excited to see where this kind of thinking leads as I strive to document the bits — both big and small — of all students’ growth as communicators.

11 thoughts on “Documenting Our Learning

  1. Ruth, I just HAD to leave a comment!! My kids LOVE LOVE LOVE Mo Willems. They couldn’t wait until his new book came out!!! We showed our principal the video that some students made on u-tube, about “The Pigeon Wants to be the Principal”. It’s very funny and captures the essence of being a principal!
    I was very impressed with your video… WOW…you really captured the essence of a young writers workshop. (I also personally knew some of the students, so I was excited to see the work they were doing). Thanks for sharing.


  2. I just love everything about this post – but, especially, the video clip. It captures all that is best about writing workshop: the delight in mentor texts, the sharing, the sense of community, the joy of writing. Thank you for this, Ruth! In our writing circle today, one of my students shared a piece she was struggling with, only to find five classmates with five awesome suggestions to get her going. It was a special moment – and sometimes I think I enjoy these in-the-process moments more than the writing celebrations themselves. It’s the heart of writing workshop, right?!


  3. Thank you for your comments. I need to hear them to push my thinking. I love hearing the phrases/sentences that stick with you. I also am thankful to hear how this applies to your work. This kind of work is taking up a lot of my brain-space so I’m glad the conversation is growing in the comments.


  4. I finally found some concentrated time to read and watch the video Ruth. What a wonderful capturing of the learning and excitement that this study supported. It was so great to see the students talk about all those little things they noticed, which will certainly carry them on to other noticings in their next books. I’ll pass this on, but also will think about how to extend the learning to older students in their own author studies. Might be a wonderful way to start a year with them in workshop? Thank you for taking the time to document, and celebrate, this time.


  5. Your video documentation is so powerful. That is data with a soul, for sure. You have my mind reeling with ideas–about unit planning, about documenting our process and growth, about early writers vs middle school writers. I need to do some writing to work these ideas out!


  6. “Our work is about much more than making cool things.” I love this statement because it is so true and should be felt by us all. It is not about the cool or the best, it is about what they do, what they feel and how we celebrate those accomplishments. Loved the video and post. Great messages for all writers, no matter where they are in their process.


  7. I have been thinking so much about the value of documentation in recent days – and here’s your terrific blogpost on the same topic! Earlier this week, I attended an extraordinary student-created opera by 3rd grade students at Stedwick Elementary in Montgomery County, MD. This opera represented some 8 months of interdisciplinary learning. The hallways outside of the performance were filled with the most detailed and amazing documentation – how the students developed the theme, setting, plot; persuasive writing samples, character development charts; on and on. No one could walk away from that hour long program thinking “Wow, that was easy!” Documentation is essential for this enlightenment. Two lines from your post stand out to me – the need to document “not perfect pieces of writing, but growing, learning writers,” and “their talk and actions during workshop were crucial to knowing the extensive learning that was happening.” Your video is fantastic – a great way to convey the learning process. Thank you for this.


  8. Ruth,
    I plan to “lead off” my grad school class in Beginning Reading and Writing with this clip. It’s a reminder of what children can and want to do when they are in a supportive writing environment.
    Thank you SO very much for sharing.


  9. Ruth,

    THANK YOU! You made my day by posting this. Next year, I will be co-teaching (I’m an ESL teacher) in a K room for the first time. I am a bit nervous about working with students who are so young age and this video made me excited for the task ahead. Such wonderful and enthusiastic learners and great and challenging work/thinking.

    Thank you for taking the time to reflect on your unit and to SHARE it with us!


  10. Lisa,
    Thank you. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this and am thankful for your comments. I’m glad you are reflecting at the end of the year and that we can layer our thinking on top of each other. I love the way thinking can grow in the blog world. I’m glad you took the time to watch the video and leave a comment.


  11. Ruth, This is a VERY powerful post. You are really getting good at these video clips! Watching Mrs. Nelson’s class talk about Mo is just amazing. EVERY teacher needs to watch this 8 minutes of wonder to see the true POWER of workshop. Sooooooo inspiring! (not to mention that it’s real!! Doesn’t every teacher simply get disgusted when viewing a clip of a silent classroom where no child is moving??!)
    Now to your thinking…I am constantly, and especially during this time of year…end of year reflection, wondering how to honor those tiny moments of workshop. Yet I know I tend to focus on those kids who produce high “quality” work….which in the end means I’m focusing on the same kids over and over! So…. thanks for pusing my thinking and getting me excited about documenting the small moments…those tiny gems (I can still hear the first child saying “Big, little, big little…she is SO proud!!).


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