independent writing · Tailoring Our Teaching Blog Series · writing workshop

Tailoring Our Teaching: Using a Writing Engagement Tool

20131103-014111.jpgYet another way we can tailor our teaching during writing workshop is to observe the writing habits of the young writers in our classrooms.   During a recent Heinemann Digital Campus course (Teaching Reading in Small Groups), I was introduced to Jennifer Serravallo’s engagement tool.  Jennifer suggested using the engagement tool to observe students’ reading habits.  A colleague and I adapted the tool for use during writing workshop.

The Tool

Writing Engagement Tool

During a 40-minute block of independent writing time, we sat back and observed the students.  We recorded their independent writing behaviors at eight separate time intervals.  Since we could not predict what their behaviors might be, we coded the behaviors as we observed in real time.  For example, we had not predicted that “staring” off into space would be a frequently observed behavior, yet it was.  Therefore, we suggest not attempting to predetermine the codes, but rather inventing the codes as you observe the behaviors.  The engagement tool gave us a formalized way to collect data about writing habits so we could tailor our teaching.

Looking at the Data

Afterwards, we looked at the data we collected and discussed trends.  For example, we plan to observe Janiya, DaSean, Brandon L., Jordan, and Saray more closely in the beginning of independent writing time in the upcoming weeks.  According to our observations on this day, they did not do any writing during the first 10 minutes of independent writing time.

Writing Engagement Tool1

Perhaps they need more explicit instruction in a small group about ways writers can get started.  As writers ourselves, we know this happens.  Sometimes, we feel stuck.  We have tools up our sleeves to help us, and we can teach these tools to kids.

We might also tailor our teaching to offer some instruction in revision.   Analyzing the engagement tool, it appears that Brandon, Janiya, Brandon L. Marisa, Timothy, Angel, and Sean thought their writing was “done” for the day.  They did not return to their writing for revision possibilities.

Writing Engagement Tool2

We would like to build the habit of revision for these students, showing them explicit ways to return to a piece of writing to improve it.

As we looked at the completed engagement tool, the teacher and I noticed three major trends.  Student who might:

  • Need strategies to get started on a piece
  • Need revision strategies
  • Need to build their writing stamina, learning to write for extended periods without interruption.

We plan to continue collecting information about the habits of these young writers and tailoring our teaching to meet their varied needs.  We hope the engagement tool will be one piece of the puzzle in learning about the writers in our classroom.

13 thoughts on “Tailoring Our Teaching: Using a Writing Engagement Tool

  1. This is SO wonderful. Way back almost when I did my dissertation research, I experimented with creating tools such as this. I love the idea of kid watching and using that data to describe writers. The one problem I had was that even first graders seemed to be more engaged on days when they perceived me to be watching them! I got around this by watching 2-3 kids per day for 15 minutes: howeve4r, that does NOT give you the breadth and depth of their workshop experience for a longer block of time. Kudos to you!


  2. What a great tool and great information to collect. Not only are you seeing the habits of students but this is a great habit for teachers too…watch them and they will reveal what they need. Love it!


  3. This is a wonderful way to take a snapshot of writers in our classroom in a completely different way. I can see that this type of charting would be particularly useful at the beginning of the year, or at the beginning of a genre cycle. Thanks for sharing this, Dana.


  4. This is interesting organization and I like that you were able to gain so much information in that brief amount of time. It gives support for future planning, and a record to keep so that overtime you can (hopefully) see changes in the work habits of students. Thanks!


  5. This is such a smart idea! I often try to take an informal observation at the beginning and end of class to see how all of my students are doing, but I can’t always keep track of things during the workshop or from day-to-day. This is s great tool to use! Thinking on how my class went today, I think I would also have to add “blowing nose” or “asking multiple times to use the bathroom” as part of the chart. 🙂


Comments are closed.