early childhood · peer conferring · writing workshop · young authors

My Re-Programming Process

Did you ever feel like you have been programmed to teach one way, then you learn something new and you desperately attempt to try it, but your programming gets in the way every time? That is where I was back in 2011.

I will start by saying, what I was doing wasn’t all that bad; it got good results, but not great results. It got kids interested in writing, but not exceptionally excited about writing. My old way pleased people and I even got others on board. It was what I like to call, “my starting point.” Then I read a book called, Talking, Drawing, Writing by Martha Horn and Mary Ellen Giacobbe. This book changed me and everything I knew about writing instruction began to shift. But it was already late September and I had started writing workshop already. What was I going to do with all this new information? I was going to start over.

I started by making small changes; a little at a time. I had no idea these little deviations from my old path for workshop routines and set-up would be so challenging. Just a couple of shifts from my focus and POW, it was as though I didn’t know where I was sometimes.I would stand up to do my teaching model, begin the lesson, things were going well, and then the programming would slip in–yikes! I found myself saying what I had always said, and doing what I had always done. Haven’t we all learned this does not get you anywhere new?

One of my attempts to put a focus on talking and drawing was to plan some one on one attention for each of my students. Their third grade buddies fit the bill and a couple of weeks into the year my third grade buddy (teacher extraordinaire) came and helped me model just how they would do that! She and I talked through a story I was writing, and modeled questioning techniques and behaviors that might come up–such as, what to do with a kindergartener who might just want to chew his shirt instead of draw! Then each of the kindergarten students shared their stories and they were off with the colored pencils, crayons and paper, making books together. It was magic.

matthew and dominic photo

The goal? Create exceptional excitement about writing to get a good product instead of trying to get a good product in hopes that students will enjoy the process.

Using these third graders helped put a focus on talk that allowed every child a chance. A chance to rehearse and be heard in a short amount of time. They were given immediate feedback and that helped them gain confidence and move forward with their writing.

I would encourage you to use the older students in your building to help connect and grow your community of writers. Starting this early allows for it to naturally build into your routine and puts a focus on sharing and collaborating, even in the early years of young writers.

How do you find such a partner?

Start with a teacher you may already have a relationship with that might get excited about this idea. Ask if she has time one day a week to bring her class to your room for twenty minutes of sharing and writing. Collaborate together so your buddy teacher can prepare her students for listening behaviors and setting a positive tone for your young writers. Often there are teachers out there just waiting to be asked or teachers who never thought of getting together but are willing to try. If it is possible, go down to her classroom to talk to the class and model what the experience will be like so there is some readiness on the part of the older students. Give it a go!

I’d love to hear how you collaborate with other teachers and students when it comes to sharing and talking about writing.

In June, I attended the All Write!!! Conference in Warsaw, Indiana where I was lucky enough to sit in on three of Martha Horn’s sessions where she clearly explained several ideas from Talking, Drawing, Writing as well as shared new ideas from further work. I was able to speak with her personally and she is every bit as generous in sharing her ideas as she was during her sessions and within her book.

In a few weeks I will revisit the book, Talking, Drawing, Writing and share more ideas as well as an interview with Martha. What questions would you ask her? What are you wondering about when it comes to your young writers and the importance of talking, drawing and writing within your classroom? I hope to pass on some of your questions as well as ask a few of my own. Leave your questions in the comment section and come back in a few weeks to hear some answers and thoughtful information from Martha Horn.


3 thoughts on “My Re-Programming Process

  1. I think this is key: “Create exceptional excitement about writing to get a good product instead of trying to get a good product in hopes that students will enjoy the process.” You said it! I love your honesty here, Betsy. Thanks for sharing this with us.


  2. Wow Betsey! I love the writing goal. This is something I want for my students. So many do not find joy in writing because it is hard. I must get this book. The other big message that hit me was this: “just a couple of shifts from my focus and POW, it was as though I didn’t know where I was sometimes.” So true. I hadn’t thought of it that way but I do feel that every time I change up my thinking. Finally, I love the idea of partnering for one-on-one attention. Do you think the third graders benefited as well? I’m in 5th and we are the big guys on campus.
    Thank you so much for this post


  3. I definitely fall back into old habits easily! It takes a real conscious effort to make anew habit. I just made a checklist for myself to use during Writer’s Workshop for the first few weeks so I will remember to do everything I want to do!


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