I am currently in the throes of moving house. We are packing up our home in Riverdale, NY and are going against the usual way that young families migrate by moving back to Manhattan. Needless to say, our old home, with its full basement and garage, is somewhat larger than our new home, with its six rooms. As such, I have spent the last weeks immersed in downsizing. I have ruthlessly gone through each closet, drawer, and storage bin to uproot items that have finished serving their purposes in our lives. I feel a surge of energy just thinking about how much useless stuff I have cleared out. After all, though items we no longer need seem innocuous, they are not. Items we no longer need drain our space, or time, and our energy, even if they are hidden in nooks and crannies. When we get rid of the old, we make room for the new.
So too is this true in our writing workshops. At this point in the year, we have been engaged in writing workshop long enough to have gathered some serious clutter. Here are five ways to uproot and eradicate some of the inessential.
- Retire Old Charts. Give each student five Post-its. Ask them to put a Post-it on the five charts they use most often. You’ll get a quick snapshot of the charts that students still need and the ones that can be put away.
- Organize the Writing Center. The writing center can be a hotbed of clutter. Types of paper, graphic organizers, and writing utensils that kids no longer need get in the way of ones that kids need most. You might want to consider a version of the hanger test that Oprah Winfrey popularized for cleaning out closets, in which the closet owner reverses all of the hangers, and returns them to the correct position after wearing an article of clothing. After six months, it is simple to see which clothes were never worn, and these can be discarded. Along these lines, you might reverse the items in your writing center, and instruct kids to put them back right side up if they use them. Then after a week or so, you can easily see what is no longer needed.
- Clean Out Writing Folders. Though we encourage students to take home most of the work in their writing folders at the end of each unit, sometimes either they haven’t done this, or they need to do it more often than once per unit. If you see kids who are struggling to find the pieces they are working on, you might want to channel them to do some decluttering.
- Declutter Minilessons. Admittedly, this is a different kind of decluttering, but it is important all the same. Once we settle in to familiarity with our students, it is easy to let the time we spend on minilessons slowly creep up. Time yourself, and if your minilesson is longer than ten minutes, look for ways to declutter. Some common spots where clutter gathers in minilessons: during the connection, if stories go on and on, and during the active engagement, if too many kids are invited to share with the whole group.
- Streamline Transitions. Transitioning from one part of writing workshop to the next is where the biggest chunk of time is lost. To keep transitions from eating away at kids’ writing time, try the following:
- Have consistent methods for getting kids’ attention, and make it your absolute priority that each student adheres to these. Stop everything else in its tracks if kids are not responding.
- Assign spots both in the meeting area and for independent writing. Kids can choose them, they just need to know where to go each and every day, and they need to know that time spent negotiating where they sit is unacceptable.
- Share and maintain clear expectations for how often and for what purpose students may move around the room during independent writing time.
Hopefully, these tips will help keep your writing workshop humming along like a well-oiled machine.
Please share your top tips for keeping writing workshop streamlined. Thank you!
Anna is a staff developer, literacy coach, and writer, based in New York City. She taught internationally in places such as Sydney, Australia; San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and Auckland, New Zealand in addition to New York before becoming a staff developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University (TCRWP). She has been an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, and teaches at TCRWP where she helps participants bring strong literacy instruction into their classrooms. Anna recently co-wrote Bringing History to Life with Lucy Calkins, part of the 2013 series Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing (Heinemann). She has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core (Heinemann, 2012) and Navigating Nonfiction (Heinemann, 2010).