Long ago, most teachers I knew had a ritual that they held near and dear to their hearts. At the end of every writing workshop, a child sat in the Author’s Chair and read a story the the whole class.
I used to do this, and I used to love it. I told myself that every child in my class was listening, rapt with attention, to the child in the Author’s Chair. I guess I hoped that kids were gleaning secret insight from each other’s stories. Perhaps they would be inspired by the topic, or maybe they would notice a strategy their classmate had tried. I had built it up in my mind as a magical, precious moment in my day.
But, to tell the truth, if I’m being honest, most of the time that is not at all what was really going on. If I’m really, truly, brutally honest, most days it was a stretch to say that kids were even listening to the Author in the Chair, much less walking away with any sort of inspiration to transfer to their own writing. Rather, they squabbled over who’s turn it was. They complained that they couldn’t see. Sometimes the authors were difficult to hear. It took a long time. A very long time some days.
Over the years, my own thinking has changed about the “Share” time at the end of writing workshop–and so has the thinking of most writing workshop experts.
What used to be strictly a time for the Author’s Chair, has evolved into a time to provide closure for the writing workshop–and it might go in a variety of ways.
Here are a few of my own favorite ways to use the last few minutes of writing workshop. Maybe I should call it “Closing Time” or “Reflection” or “Teaching Share,” rather than Author’s Chair or Share time.
Reflection: Kids might reflect on their own work from the day, the week, or even the entire unit during the Share time. They could do this informally, simply by turning and talking to a partner to share their thoughts. Or perhaps they might write a brief entry in their writing notebooks if they are older students.
Goal Setting: Students might use a checklist or anchor charts to check through their own writing to name the strategies they’ve already been trying, and also to select a few strategies they might try tomorrow–some goals to work on.
Problem Solving: I’m sure your workshop is always beautiful and perfect, sunshine and rainbows, so maybe you won’t use your share time this way. However, I sometimes use the share time to have a conversation with kids about problems that have arisen during the workshop. I might say to kids, “It was really noisy today. I could barely even hear myself thinking! What could we do differently tomorrow, and every day, so that it’s not so noisy during our writing time?”
Making a Kid Famous: If you’re reeling from the suggestion that the share time might not actually be used for sharing, then you’ll like this classic idea from Lucy Calkins–instead of just having a kid read her work, highlight one strategy the student used–make her famous for that strategy. Invite the other kids to go see that student if they want help with that particular strategy.
Fishbowl a Conference: Have the kids sit in a circle around you as you confer with one student. Ask the rest of the class to watch closely for particular things–you might want kids to notice how their classmate doesn’t just read his writing, but instead talks about his process, and tries to name the strategies he’s been using.
And of course, from time to time, a good old fashioned Author’s Chair is called for. Sometimes it’s just what the class needs. It can be magical and inspiring when the time is right.
The Guide to Writing Workshop in the most recent Units of Study for Writing Workshop (by Lucy Calkins and Colleagues) describes more alternative ways that the share time might go. In each case, the teacher works to name some work that the whole class might benefit from, making the share time purposeful and useful for everybody.
There are a zillion other ways the share time might go–in the Guide to Writing Workshop, Lucy invites us to use our imagination, and invent our own rituals and structures to provide closure to the hard work that kids do each day.