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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.


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!

Tara Smith View All

I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

25 thoughts on “Six things you need to do before the writing workshop year ends. Leave a comment

  1. That it pains us all to throw out charts says so much about the community we have built and thus grieve as those charts leave our room. For me, we have to cover our bookcases over the summer so I ‘reuse’ the charts, rather than getting new paper. It is fun to walk into my room in August and see all the charts there to greet me. (Then I have to toss them.)

    The other thing on my ‘to-do’ list before the end of the year is to have kids do some of this documenting (writing notebook, draft, published piece) onto their websites as a way to reflect on their journey as writers.

    Summer is coming!


  2. I, too, always forget that the kids who left me in June ar not the kids I will be teaching in September. I loop with kids, so I will actually be keeping the same kids next year for seventh grade. Then, I transition down to sixth graders the following September! This is a huge jump. I love the idea of snapping some pictures to remind me about what I should be expecting kids to be. I’m stealing it!!


  3. This is a terrific list, Tara. I really love the idea of photographing pages from your students’ notebooks to use as inspiration for your future sixth graders. Thank you for always inspiring me!


  4. Hey Tara – great, great blog post! Thank you! One thing I did slightly differently for the charts, is instead of throw them away, I gave them away on the last day of school. Students picked their favorite ones to take home. It was always enlightening to see which ones mattered most to them, they papered their bedroom walls over the summer AND I didn’t have to grieve just dumping them 🙂


  5. Tara.
    Such a great list. I’m also thinking it can be a great reminder for the beginning of next year as we begin with the end in mind. Capturing student examples for mentor texts is so important so you can have the full range of growth. Many of our districts are already out . . .but yet wisdom I can always share!



  6. Great ideas. I’ve also taken them all down and will use them in the three weeks left of school. My workshops have been amazing this year, with ideas from you. I’ll have my last writing celebration…as they are super writers now.


  7. Love your list. It focuses me on the important. Thank you! I’m looking to do a writing workshop with my incoming class before they take off for summer. I want to get a read on where they are now – for my mind and to hold them accountable for their learning. Just two weeks left and it will fly by!


  8. Tara, As a veteran teacher I applaud your list. You pared down to the essentials. I especially like that you included a celebration. When I was in the classroom facilitating a writing workshop, we had celebration at the end of every quarter. This kept the kids motivated and inspired to do their best because they knew they would have a chance to share their work with others. Love this blog! Readarose


    • I finally got chance to read this post after a day of gardening, laundry, cooking, etc. It reminded me so much of my final weeks each year, with a big difference. In my case, as an ESL teacher, there was almost nothing left of the school year to work with. The main events were going on in the mainstream classrooms, and my classes were an afterthought, or a place to park the kids when teachers did not have a party or an end of the year event going on in their classrooms. I learned to not leave certain things to the end of the year…such as copying student work. Instead, I tried to do it ll year long, whenever I could grab some time. The result: I now have twelve boxes filled with mentor texts, copies of student work, files filled with ideas, examples of student’s published anthologies, etc., filling my laundry room! It’s a good idea, always, to think about the year ahead. It’s so much harder to part with the year just completed. It’s almost impossible to toss a lifetime of work. Anybody have a similar dilemma?
      One last thought…I used to buy cheap tote bags and load them up before the end of the year with books I no longer wanted or had in excess; outdated reference books like atlases and dictionaries from the library; extra supplies including paper and gently used markers; samples of their year’s work, and miscellaneous things like posters and objects I knew they would treasure. These were their “summer bags” and they looked forward each year to receiving them.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. This came just in time.

    “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.”

    I think this every year. I get a twitch to laminate and then I remember how powerful it is to make them with the kids and ask them where to put them in the room so they’ll know where to find them. Taking pictures is great. Why didn’t I think of that?!


  10. Tara, as a mature teacher who is a rookie writing workshop teacher (well, 2 years in…) I find this blog immensely helpful and inspiring.
    I teach at an independent school, and we have just a week left with students!
    My six things could easily be 60, but you are wise to remind me, and teachers everywhere that reasonable expectations yield better results. So here are my six:
    1. Copy student’s writing. I have on loan several student notebooks for writing samples that will help support my lessons.
    2. Copy charts and create a cache of “mini charts” that may be helpful for conferring.
    3. Create a conferring toolkit ( great series on your blog- thanks!)
    4. Attend my 2nd TCRWP summer institute for writing. I got in!
    5. Do some PD reading: I like your suggestions. My head of school just lent me a book by Colleen Cruz called The Unstoppable Writing Teacher. I am only a chapter into it so far, but I know it will be informative and funny because that seems to be Colleen’s style. ( She was my morning session speaker each day at my last TC Institute.)
    6. Take some time to reflect on what is going well in workshop and what needs work, and set six more goals for the 2015-2016 school year. It will include reading this Blog regularly.
    Thanks for sharing what you do so well!


  11. Tara, this list of ideas is wonderful for thinking about the end of the year. I am headed back to the classroom next year (yay!) and am tucking your ideas into my toolbox. Your point about having a reasonable summer reading PD list made me smile. My TBR pile is already unreasonable. I need to pare it down. 😄. Good luck in winding down the year.


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