The first six weeks of school is about providing structure for students. Teachers who are too lenient never seem to gain control of their class while teachers who are too rigid risk the chance of not building a cohesive classroom community since students don’t feel safe enough to take risks. There’s a fine line to walk between leniency and rigidness.
In writing workshop, the first month of school is about establishing routines (e.g., for coming to the meeting area, conferring), setting writing goals, building a writerly life, using writer’s notebooks, and creating a safe place for sharing and celebrating as writers. The latter four things cannot happen if routines aren’t in place. And, routines cannot be in place until your classroom community has a working set of rules.
When I started teaching I believed that rules were something a teacher created and students followed. After a couple of years in the classroom, and Responsive Classroom training, I came to realize that classroom rules should be created with students. I know many teachers who don’t agree with this since I’ve walked into many classrooms, since I left the classroom to consult, where teacher-created rules are still posted on the classroom wall. How do I know they’re not student-generated or co-written with students? First, they’re written in teacher-speak. Second, there’s usually one rule that reflects the teacher’s pet peeve. Third, there are more than five rules, many of which begin with the words “don’t” or “no.” Finally, they’re never signed by the students.
Creating classroom rules takes time. First you have to share your goals with students. Then, students need to discuss what their goals are for the school year. Afterwards, the class should meet to talk about the kinds of rules that they think should exist in the classroom so that they can reach meet or exceed their goals. Then, there’s a negotiation between students and teacher about the rules the students generate. (This usually involves some restating and paring down on the teacher’s part. You want to make sure you have no more than five, positively-stated classroom rules.) Finally, the rules are reviewed and accepted by all members of the classroom community.
While classroom rules should be broad so they apply to all subject areas, it’s often necessary to create expectations for writing workshop. Like the general classroom rules, expectations for writing workshop should be created by the entire class with a writing focus in-mind. Some things you might want students to think about when they’re generating expectations for writing workshop are:
- Why should they write pieces that hold meaning or value to them?
- How can they use their voices to share ideas/opinions in a respectful way?
- How will they maintain their focus during independent writing time?
- What does accountable partner work look like?
- How should a productive and respectful share session look and sound?
We want students to become more competent, engaged, and comfortable with writing. At the core of your writing workshop expectations should be the notion that the expectations will help your students become better writers. Therefore, if you’re going to have separate expectations for writing workshop, consider just three or four. And remember, to keep them positive. .
Have you ever created a set of rules or expectations with your students for writing workshop? Please share a bit about how it went. If you haven’t created separate workshop rules or expectations with students, what are some of the things that you think are important in order to create a working culture around writing in your classroom?
For two more perspectives on creating rules and setting expectations, check out Ruth’s post here on TWT and Terje’s post over at Just for a Month. Need some more inspiration about rule creation? Check out this blog post on the Responsive Classroom Website about using read alouds to inspire classroom rules.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).