Six things you need to do before the writing workshop year ends.

Next week, I will have to tear off the month of May from my office calendar and face June. This is always a rather terrifying moment for me – less than four weeks till the end of school. Now, we are down to counting in days, not weeks. Yikes! How am I ever going to get everything done, and keep it all as much “fun” and engaging as possible so as to hold on to the very last of my kids’ attention spans?!    In addition to the finishing up, of course, is the matter of planning ahead, which Beth wrote about so beautifully in her post: Planning for the Planning.  Among my to do lists for this endeavor is this one:

Six things to do before the writing workshop year ends:

  1. Photocopy samples of student first draft work from September.

I tend to start September remembering sixth grade students as they were in June. Big mistake.  Those first few weeks are always an adjustment back to the reality of incoming sixth graders.  For the last few years, I make a point of photocopying first drafts and writer’s notebook entries from the early part of the year.  Going through these in early August is a great refresher course for mini lessons to plan and adjustments to be made for September.  I need to hear the voices of sixth grade writers, and readjust my vision for a new year of writing.

     2. Photograph writer’s notebook samples.

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I love the way my kids come up with new ideas to organize their thinking, plan for writing, and brainstorm for new ideas.  More and more, I have come to believe in the power of making thinking visible before plunging into the writing itself, and my best teachers in this regard have been my kids.  I print these out and laminate them for the next school year, when a basket of such samples becomes a part of our writing resource center, there for easy reference and inspiration.  These are also wonderful tools for my conferring toolkit in those early months when we work towards filling our notebooks with writing lists and ideas.

     3. Photograph charts, then toss them out.

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By the time the year winds down, I have the year’s worth of charts rolled up and stowed in every free corner of my classroom. Since these are created with my kids and for my kids, I develop an attachment to them – they represent the work we’ve done together. It seems just plain wrong to throw them out. But throw them out I must. Next year, I will have a batch of new kids to work and create with, and re-using this year’s thinking would defeat the purpose of charting in the first place. But, I do take photographs of charts I felt captured a line of thinking that I would want to include in our conversations next year.  Good thinking is good thinking, and I want to hold on to any evidence of it.

     4. Try out something new.

Every year, I like to try something new, a genre I have been reading about, for instance, and would love to experiment with my current crop at a time of year when I feel I know them well, and think they might benefit from the experiment. If it works, great, it’s something I will spend summer trying to figure out how to do in the new year. If it fails, I can forget about it…as my kids surely also will.  One year, I experimented with the photo essay, and found that my kids were able to do amazing things. So, in the following year, I taught photo essay early on and my students worked with this genre and found imaginative ways to incorporate beautiful photo essays into  book club and social studies projects.  Squeezing in something new definitely paid off!

     5.  Plan the final writing celebration:

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In the rush of the last few weeks, a final writing celebration is one of those things that is easy to forget about entirely. That would be a mistake.  Writing workshop is hard work, and deserves a big celebration to mark all the effort that went into a year devoted to honing our writing skills day after day.   Planning and end of year celebration can vary from a celebration of each student’s writing portfolios as a whole, with students sharing aloud their favorite published pieces, to family celebrations where parents and siblings are invited to read and have a flavor of writing workshop.  My sixth graders end our year together celebrating our multi genre unit – our very last project together. This is an entirely kid-driven celebration:they make invitations for their parents, and take on the jobs of welcoming parents, introducing and explaining our project, and so on.  There’s nothing quite like ending a year of hard work with a celebration!

     6. Make a (realistic) list of PD summer reading:

We are so fortunate as teachers in that brilliant educator gurus, the ones who write books with innovative and imaginative strategies and practices, are such prolific authors.  It’s an abundance of brilliance to choose from! When I make my summer reading list of PD books, I ask myself three  questions:

  • what do I need to work on this summer to improve upon what I did during the last school year – where were the holes in my teaching practice: conferring? pacing? assessing? Last summer, for instance, I dove into the new Units of Study.  That summer work led to implementing writing checklists, and tightening up my information writing genre study.
  • what am I curious about – where would I like to stretch myself, think of new approaches, push my thinking?  Last summer, I dove into Linda Rief’s Read, Write, Teach because I need to rethink ways in which to link my reading and writing workshops more seamlessly.  I also dove into Louise Rosenblatt’s work (such as Making Meaning with Texts: Selected Essays) because so many of the books and blogs I had been reading referenced her work.
  • where can I use a refresher course – what books do I need to re-read to remind myself of nitty-gritty details and thoughtful analysis?

Then I try to make a reasonable list of books that answer each question, set them aside in a book bag, and begin reading them slowly, savoring all that great thinking.

That’s it. My list of “six things I need to do before the writing workshop year ends”.  What’s on your list? Please take a moment to share!