The End is Better with the Start in Mind
Have you ever noticed how Writing Workshop seems to be bookended by the minilesson and share? The tie between the minilesson and the share are powerful to the students and me. Sharing just might be the the most valuable part of our workshop. This is not to say the independent practice in between doesn’t hold merit, nothing could be further from the truth. But in our classroom the tie between the opening and closing of the workshop seems to be the “salt of the workshop.”
The Power of Share Begins with Knowing the Writers
From information gained in parent conferences I know all my writers have a fondness of furry creatures and pizza! So of course we are writing an engaging story of how my cat, Sophia escaped out the door when the pizza man delivered the pizza, and it is a true story! Besides, what student doesn’t love a peek into their teacher’s life!
In our minilesson last week we were exploring how writers make their stories easy for their readers to read (organization of print and illustrations) and how writers make their stories fun for the reader (this can vary; onomatopoeias, a surprise ending, unexpected events etc.). The stretch of the focus helped meet the needs of the students who are learning about concepts of print in reading and writing, while still offering the students whose writing is organized a next step. It can be overwhelming to consider meeting the needs of all writers in one workshop, but if I am thoughtful in my planning I know I’ll have an intentional focus based on the needs of the writers.
Now It’s Show Time-
Choosing Students Intentionally
We gathered on the carpet and I placed my eye on the students who I was targeting for this lesson, I wanted to make sure I knew right where they are so I can include them in the conversations. Today’s students might have become target students from assessments I’ve analyzed, work I have read, conferences we’ve shared or comments they have made in a lesson. Watching learners across the workshops helps me to uncover the biggest needs.
I considered the students who need support generating ideas as I begin –
“Your parents shared with me that you like animals and did you know writers write about what they know and what their readers like?” “Would a story about my cat escaping my house be interesting to you?”
They responded in a chorus of laughs and yesssss’s! So, I invited the class to be my conferring partners as I began to tell my story. I wanted to help the writers better understand how to give feedback in a conference, so I left out important parts of the story and pretended to be done. Soon the students were asking me for more information. I directed my attention to those students who need support in giving feedback and story planning. I asked them what they would like to have added to my story and with their help the story was ready to come to life on paper!
Teaching the Writers
As I gathered my paper and writing tools I began to shift my focus to the students who need support organizing their print on paper. (I write on the same paper the students will be using to enable the writers to envision what I am doing in their work. I projected on a big screen via a document camera so everyone can see clearly.) I called on my target students to ask them how to plan the organization of writing and illustrations. Once these decision were made I began to write the story. As I neared the end of the line I called on the help of my target students again.
“I don’t think I can fit my next word on this line. What should I do?”
While one student came up to help I asked the others to share their thoughts on his idea. The decision was made and we continued writing (the student remained at my side helping to ensure I have left a space between each word). Once we are done I call on another student who is working on one-to-one matching. She points at each word as we read to make sure our words make sense.
As we write the story I seek ideas from writers who are ready for new writing techniques. I asked them to make the story fun for the reader. I asked them to consider the sounds they might have heard as a doorbell rings and as my cat jumps down from her high perch. We talked about books where we might have seen a writer use onomatopoeias and we discussed a few ideas before choosing one.
We talked about the words on the page. We considered what illustrations should be added to help the reader understand the story. I asked students who needed support in reading illustrations as readers, and students who lacked clear illustrations in their stories, to help us plan our illustrations. To show students the connection between illustrations and words we discussed each idea and how it supports the reader.
Keeping the Focus
As the lesson transitioned to independent writing I asked the writers to share ideas from today’s lesson. “Did you hear anything you might try in your writing?” As kids shared, I had an opportunity to assess what students are taking away from the lesson, plan conferences for workshop, and adjust the focus for tomorrow’s lesson. Before the final send off I reminded writers- “Think about how you can make your writing easy to read and fun for your reader and be ready to share how you did this when we come back. Setting a focus for share before they began writing tells the writers the lesson is important and sets the expectation for the work they will do in the workshop.
Bringing it all Back to the Start
After allowing time for writers to do the work writers do, we come back together, right where we began, but now we gathered in a circle and we brought our work. Writers rushed to the circle with stories, iPads, books, and folders in hand. Some were begging to share and some asked for more time to write, while others, too deep into writing (I told myself) to hear the music kept writing. As we settled I watched iPad screens take over our projection screen as kids hoped to be chosen to share.
To bookend our workshop, I began by asking writers to share what they did to make their story easy or fun for the reader. I didn’t wait for volunteers, even though there were several. I called on students intentionally. Maybe it’s something I saw in the workshop I want others to see or something to celebrate. Sometimes I want a writer to know they have a responsibility for their learning, so I ask them to share, other times it’s a follow-up on a student I haven’t conferred with for a day or two, and sometimes we have volunteer shares. No matter how we share the writers expect to have the conversation tie back to our focus lesson.
The predictability of our bookended workshop format allows me to trust my students to work at their pace in a way that fits their needs as a learner. Students are given time to discover their needs and preferences as they learn be responsible for their learning.