Yet 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.
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.
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.
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.
Literacy Coach, Reader, Writer