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Where to start?

As many of you know, I love helping people get started with workshop. Here’s what I’m wondering tonight…

What is the most important thing to know as a writing workshop teacher?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so I hesitate to share mine. Please leave a comment about your first reaction to this question. Even if someone else already said what you were thinking, will you still let me know? Sometimes I wonder if I’m too far away from being a new workshop teacher that I forget the handful of things that are most important to know when just beginning.

Here is my list of three, but please still share your thoughts.

  1. Write yourself and reflect on your process.
  2. Teach writers not writing assignments.
  3. Establish a predictable structure so the messy, unpredictable work of writing can happen.

Ruth Ayres View All

Unhurried. Finding the magic in the middle of living. Capturing a life of ridiculous grace + raw stories.

26 thoughts on “Where to start? Leave a comment

  1. I think that you have to show your students that you are writing with them. If they are writing RF so are you. This shows the writers that writing isn’t a perfect process- it’s messy. You are constantly looking back and saying how can I make it better. I am using an ELMO for the first time and it has made it so easy to show my writing.

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  2. I think number one and number two on your list are important. However, I actually think you can start teaching through a workshop approach without writing yourself (Yikes! Did I just say that?). It is definitely the most transformational thing you can do as a teacher of writing, but it can come second, after you have a structure in place, if need be (in other words, don’t use that as an excuse to stop you from using a workshop approach).

    I would say the most important thing for me to remember when I first started was that when things aren’t working, there is always a way through it. It is not workshop that isn’t working, it is a procedure that is missing, a mini-lesson that needs to be taught, something else you can try within the structure of workshop. Don’t give up! It will be messy.

    Also, I think it is important to keep in mind that it is okay to not have ‘the answers’ when you sit down to confer with a student. Listen. Read. Starting by responding to student work as a thoughtful reader is okay, you don’t have to stress about being the expert writer. It is tempting to show students how to create a more effective piece of writing, but it is more powerful to allow them to work through revisions.

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  3. Remember that slow and steady wins the race. Stick to one teaching point ech day! Don’t try to cram in a bunch of TP’s into one lesson!

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  4. 1.) be OK with writers at all different stages of the process. Just because the week ends on Friday, doesn’t mean the writing is publishable
    2.) Publish so writers can share their work – on a blog, in a book, read from an author’s chair, or just a file in the classroom library – student work should be read by more than the teacher.
    3.) teach revision, at all grades. Encourage students to read their own work carefully and use tools (like story maps, outlines, etc) to improve their writing. And, do that careful reading for peers, too.

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  5. When I first started teaching workshop I had all of these great plans for how things would go. Each day would include a mini-lesson, kids would be so magically inspired to write that I would never have any management problems, we would all know how to provide expert feedback, and there would be tons of time to share.

    In reality, very little of that happened in the first year, and now four years later I am just starting to figure out how to balance instruction, work time, collaboration, and sharing. I still have a long way to go. Some days area really messy, and kids are not nearly as productive as I want them to be. That is the time when I reflect on my own writing process- I am not 100% all the time that someone tells me I should be writing, how can I honestly expect that of them. Writing workshop needs to have room for talking, movement, collaborating, and sometimes just letting ideas marinate.

    You can only teach the workshop that works for you and your students, it will not look like anybody else’s workshop, and that is absolutely fine.

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  6. I think you said no. 2 differently than I say, but my most important is the same, to know the students, who & where they are in their writing, and in their lives. It’s so important to me to do this, & then the writing together happens, or can happen. I’ll be back to read everyone’s comments, & thanks for your list too Ruth.

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  7. When your curriculum is mandated, and change is imposed, and CC happens in ways that deter from teaching writers, you have to be creative and innovative and you have to find ways to slow down and teach the writer. If anyone figures out how to do that, let me know. 🙂

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  8. 1. Be a writer. The best writing teachers I see are the ones who write. 2. Let the kids write by remembering that less is so much more in the mini-lesson! So many mini-lessons lose the focus of the teaching point and then lose the impact. The most important part of WW is when the kids are writing. 3. Teach the writer and not the writing.

    BTW, I LOVE thinking about this and reading everyone’s thoughts! Thank you!

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  9. Great question . . . be a writer and share your writing, the ups and downs, the scribbles and scratch-outs, the notes and doodles, the PROCESS over a final product. The honesty and vulnerability will allow your writers to write too. Love the incorporation of mentor texts to allow writers the opportunity to play and try new crafting. And the importance of a daily workshop – shine the spotlight and writers will grow but only with healthy, daily doses!

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  10. Some great thoughts here. I enjoyed reading through them and thinking about my most important thing. I think there are 2: Be Present, and Be Patient.

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  11. I think the most important thing about writing workshop – for me – is that I’m a better teacher when I’m someone who writes too. Not necessarily inside of the workshop, although I have done that, but writes in general. Once I began writing on my own, I understood more of what I was asking of my students, understood more about the writing process, and I immediately became a better teacher of writing as a result.

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  12. Lists help me. I may keep a running list as my days pass. Sometimes I react to thoughts in books I am reading. Write about what you know. I look for the little things–they seem the most important to write about–a memory, a flower, something said by someone, the first thing I hear/see when I leave my home, how I feel when I get home, what lifts my spirit, searching for answers, reading a poem, sharing your writing.

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  13. I can’t pinpoint THE MOST IMPORTANT thing, so here are my thoughts…
    The process is more important than the final product. Less is more (cramming in as mini-lessons as you can without allowing time for them to practice what you’ve taught doesn’t help them). Write alongside your students. Share your writing struggles with them. Be authentic. Don’t rush revision. Teach writing through inquiry…let them inquire into what writers do! Mentor texts are key. Confer, confer, confer. Teach writing as life work rather than school work.

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  14. The most? Wow, Ruth. That’s a tall order. I have a short list, but you said the most important. So, I’ll go with WRITING WORKSHOP HAPPENS DAILY. This stresses the fact that writing is taught through a workshop approach, not through DOL drills, grammar worksheets, or some other method. In addition, it illustrates that writing is just as important as reading and math, which are typically always in teachers’ schedules. Writing cannot be the first thing to go. It must be taught daily.

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  15. It’s one of the hardest things, but find time to allow them to share their writing. We have called it the “author’s chair” in the past…if no one reads your writing, why bother? That joy of feedback fuels a thousand more stories. Allow their friends to click their “like” buttons, figuratively speaking, by laughing, questioning, or responding in some other way, either in small groups, pairs, or before the class, or even just a display board. It ignites the other writers in the room, as well.

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  16. Listen (we teach children; not curriculum) . . . .remember conferences are conversations, find the gems and celebrate what a student is or is almost doing, marinate kids in great literature – give them a vision of the kinds of things we should strive for as writers – bring authors into the room and co-teach with them, remember our job is to put ourselves out of a job – build a place that supports independence. This is a toughie for some – but write yourself – at least a little bit to better understand the process, and to have the credibility to speak to kids about doing the same thing you are asking of them.

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  17. Write. Don’t ask students to do that which you aren’t willing to do yourself. I say this as I curse it at the same time because I’m in the throes of a NaNoWriMo nightmare this week. The kids are all counting on me to finish my hideous story along with their pieces. I need to complete my piece so I can then go through the editing process with them starting next week. If I can model my process, they might be more willing to take risks. If they can help me make my work better, they may see that I value their thinking as writers. (Ok, enough procrastinating. I need to crank out 500 more NaNowords before bedtime.)

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  18. For me, it is to convince students that they have a story to tell. Many times I get students who simply think they don’t have anything to write about. Before we can do anything, I need to convince them they have something worthwhile to share with the world—or at least the class.

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  19. Hi Ruth,
    I’ve always thought providing topic choice is one of the most important things. Matt Glover just spoke about this at NCTE in relation to non genre writing units. To quote my notes,
    “Choice provides energy and motivation
    Fewer and fewer students are having the opportunity to match audience, genre, and purpose”

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  20. When I scrolled down, it looked like the first comment was the tagline from the last post – Be more than busy. Be productive. Be happy. And I thought – what a great three things to keep in mind for being in writing workshop.

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