writing workshop

Does your practice reflect your beliefs?

Lately I’ve been involved in a lot of professional development where I’m providing space and time for teachers to consider their teaching beliefs. I’ve been nudging teachers to consider:

1. What makes you stick with tough stuff?
2. What does it look like and sound like when we honor students?
3. How can we empower students to write in meaningful ways?
4. What do people need in order to learn to write?
5. What do you believe about teaching/learning conventions?

I’ve come to believe it is essential we know what we believe when it comes to teaching. It’s not enough to have schools mandate writing workshop. Instead, we need teachers who are confident in their beliefs and those beliefs reflect best practice instruction. Solid workshops are built upon research based belief systems.

So often we teach according to how we were taught; therefore if we want to change our practice, we must know what we believe. It is easy to fall into the trap of traditional teaching. This is what we experienced. In some communities it is what is expected. Sometimes we don’t know what else to do. So we line up the desks and pass out the worksheets because, by golly, kids need to learn proper capitalization!

Here’s the thing, though. Just having the beliefs is not enough. They have to be used. First they must be put through the test to make sure they are accurate and true. I’m constantly checking my beliefs against the latest research, as well as current experiences. I’m constantly asking myself if my beliefs are true. Do they withstand my new learning? Do the things happening in classrooms support them?

Next, and this is critical, I consider whether my beliefs are reflected in my practice. People should know what I believe about teaching writers from my actions. Students should know what I believe about teaching writers based on their experiences. For example, if I believe students’ stories matter, then I’ll make time for share sessions. If I believe errors are a sign of growth, then I won’t demand precise perfection in conventions. If I believe time to write makes the biggest difference in learning to write well, then there will be more writing time than teacher talking time. If I believe feedback helps writers the most, then I’ll have more conference notes than letter grades.

I’d like to challenge each of us to make a list of the experiences our students are having as writers. Then compare these experiences to your beliefs about teaching writers. Are your beliefs reflected in the writing experiences?

10 thoughts on “Does your practice reflect your beliefs?

  1. I love your challenge and will take it this weekend. I hope that my list reflects that writing is thinking and that developing a “thinker” is a bigger deal than developing perfect sentence structure. thanks for a very thought provoking post 🙂


  2. Wow – great questions to think about! We are working with the teaching of writing in our Professional Learning community (PLC) this year. I am excited to share this with my team. It will be great for a discussion.


  3. During the day, I work with elementary school kids who find reading and writing a bit challenging and their teachers. During the evenings and summers, I work with grad students who will be the future of teaching. Your questions really are critical to all aspects of my professional life. Teachers cannot just “do what they did,” as you note, and they cannot just “do” the curriculum if they hope to engage diverse students in 21st Century learning experiences. There are mulitiple technologies to embrace as well as the need to balance craft and passions in all we do, every day.
    Workshop models for reading and writing are a lot of work, no question about it; however, they are a research based format that empowers students to be writers (and readers). I for one, value the time to practice in a supportive enviornment and thus time to write in a quiet classroom with clear behavioral parameters is critical. I also value the role of teacher support, models and scaffolds and thus I embrace modeled wriiting mini lessons, personal word walls, graphic organizers and clear, teacher constructed models of what effective writing looks like. I value the opportunity to write for feedback and support, rather than just for grading and thus I value lots and lots of short conferences focused on content and craft rather than mechanics. They will not learn to be writers if they perceive teachers to be the “editor.”


  4. I like this question: Do they withstand my new learning?

    I am constantly believing and reevaluating. Adjusting practice to match beliefs and rethinking. I think this is the ART of teaching. This constant reflection, constant learning, constant flow of ideas.

    Molten Art, I love your honesty! Immerse yourself in all things Penny Kittle! AND, follow Deb Day at http://deb-day.blogspot.com/ She is humble about it, but she is an amazing high school teacher dedicated to authentic instruction in reading and writing.


  5. I love this! Just yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend/colleague in which I wondered if maybe teachers at our school had not fully embraced Writing Workshop because they hadn’t yet seen what was possible for their students. She thought it was more likely that they couldn’t see the possibilites for themselves- they didn’t see that they could become better writing teachers. I agree with her, but actually, I think it’s both. I think this is a great way to begin the conversation. Thank you for sharing this.


  6. I teach high school English and Creative Writing and have been thinking about this lately because, unfortunately, this can be answered with a resounding, “no” (in English class anyway). I teach a pure workshop in Creative Writing, but for whatever reason (curriculum partly, lack of bravery mostly) I have a more traditional English class that is just OK, but not one I’m proud of. I know your focus is elementary, but do you know of any high school teachers who are gurus of a workshop approach.


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