Writing Workshop Feels Better with Less

Writing workshop feels better with less!

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 10.24.46 PMOur workshop was feeling forced, unnatural, and just rushed! We struggled to fit it all in and share time (the most valued time) was cut short with only 1 or 2 writers sharing each day. Something had to give. Writers weren’t growing, I wasn’t conferring, and it just didn’t feel calm and productive. I reflected on our workshop, the work of the writers, and the choices I was making, but I couldn’t figure out what was making me feel so unsettled.

I felt confident about our schedule, minilesson, peer conferring, independent writing, and share we had the ideal workshop!  I was especially proud of the addition of daily peer conferring. Each writer had a partner, space, and time to meet. I felt good knowing the writers, (especially young writers) talked about writing each day.

How could it be this workshop didn’t seem ideal? I turned to the writers. I asked my writers how writing time felt to them. I asked if they needed something more. I listened as students expressed concern about the volume. Writers insisted the feel and the lack of time could be solved by simply getting to work and not talking during writing. I nodded in agreement. This had to be it! The writers know what they need, and I will ensure they get quieter writing time. So for the next few days I Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 8.46.06 PMwalked around the room redirecting the writers back to writing.  I shushed writers who were talking even after my redirection.  I reminded the class I was helping them to find more writing time through quieter writing time. But still, our writing time didn’t feel right, and I didn’t like the teacher I was becoming.  I wasn’t conferring, I wasn’t getting to know the writers, I was missing valuable teaching time, and it was still loud!

I had to do something because writing time was quickly becoming something I dreaded. (There I said it!) I shudder to think I felt this way; writing has always been my favorite part of the day! It’s a time when we get to know each other as a classmate, student, and friend. Panic set in. Was I going to fail these students?  I needed help. I invited in an extra set of eyes. I asked a teaching friend to watch our writing workshop, start to finish and note where our time was going.

The day she came in was a good day. I was able to confer with one partner group and one or two writers. Despite sitting beside writers, I still felt something wasn’t working. After school, we sat down over coffee at a local coffee shop, because that’s where all the problems of the classroom get solved!

I listened as she shared stories of our workshop, students moving about the room gathering supplies, finding space and talking with other writers. So many important pieces I can’t see when I am in the midst of it all.  I was shocked when she shared the transition from the carpet to partner conferring took the same amount of time as the minilesson!

My observer asked me what my goal was for having the writers confer with a peer daily. This question stopped me. I began to share my thoughts on why conferring is important for writers, especially young writers. Then, I realized, a writer herself, she knew why peer conferring is valuable. She wasn’t asking why I asked the writers to talk about writing. She was really asking why I had asked the writers to do it every day.

Why had I insisted writers meet daily? As a writer, I don’t want to confer every time I sit down to write and most others parts of the learning in our classroom are on demand, not scheduled. So why was I programming peer writing conferences? Did the writers in our workshop need to meet each day? Was the time they were spending getting organized to meet worth the time they were missing in writing time? How would they feel if I made an executive decision and took this requirement out of our workshop?

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 10.47.26 PMThe next morning I sat down with my class at my feet. They were looking to me for answers. But I didn’t have answers. I had a question. One crucial question.

How would you feel if we took the partner conference out and went straight to writing?

I prepared myself for the groans and why’s, but instead I heard…

  • “Yea, I like that better.
  • We will have more time to write our stories.
  • That’s OK, Mrs. Frazier, I am fine with that.
  • And YESSSSSS!”

As fists pumped in the air and friends fist-bumped!  I realized why our workshop felt so forced and rushed. It was forced, the students were going through the motions of something I required them to do; conferring with a peer wasn’t something they wanted nor needed every day. I knew there would come a time when the writers would want to confer and I also knew they would let me know when that time was.

So that was that. Required peer conferring was out. I made no mention of when or even if it would be back. I left this decision to the writers.

The workshop feels calm now, lots of time for writing (as long little 6 and 7-year-olds can write) and I am getting to know writers in their style as writers and as kids through the stories they tell.

Just yesterday, G asked if he and a friend could move over to the sink to have a conference. Today I heard two girls asking, “What do you think? Do you feel like you’re in my story?”

I guess these writers know what they need to do to grow as writers. Time and choice belong to the writer.