Sometimes It’s Actually Not a Choice: Accountability in the Writing Workshop
Jane* and I had just team-taught what we thought was a beautiful minilesson. We modeled what we thought was really lovely partner work for her kindergarteners. I read my How-To book to Jane, who tried to act it out. When my directions to her didn’t make sense, the kindergarteners offered up ways I could make my writing easier to understand.
“Today, and every day,” I said, “you can read your writing to your partner to see if they can act it out. You can always make changes to your writing if you need to.”
We sent the kids off the rug to read to their partners. . . and then something really strange happened. Not a single kid read their writing to a partner! Every kid went off and started working on their own writing, out of force of habit!
For a moment Jane and I weren’t sure if we should intervene. We huddled briefly and discussed–Should just let them continue writing? Should we let it be a choice? Finally we decided to do a mid-workshop interruption and redirect them. For many reasons, we wanted kids to practice what we had just taught.
Even after what we thought was a VERY explicit mid-workshop interruption, the majority of the class still went on writing independently. Again, this wasn’t such a bad thing–but we really wanted them to practice the partner work. We knew it would benefit them in multiple ways–if they would only try it!
Finally, we moved around the classroom, coaching each partnership of kids to put one piece of writing in the middle, read it, and act it out. Once they were up and running, the result was just what we had hoped for. Kids were enjoying each other’s writing, complimenting each other, making recommendations for changes, and lifting the level of their work together. Finally.
This was a good wake-up call. I wondered: Are kids actually changing and growing as a result of the minilessons? Or are they sitting through them, and simply going back to what’s comfortable?
This made me think of Stacey’s I Do, We Do, You Do post from a while back. The minilesson is like the “I do” part, where kids are introduced to a new strategy via demonstration and active engagement. The second part, “We do” might require some coaching and prompting to incorporate the new strategy into their daily work. Jane and I had to move around to every partnership to help them understand that we actually wanted them to do exactly what we had modeled. The final part, the “You do” is when kids can actually do the new work on their own.
My goal for the next few weeks is to pay close attention to kids when they leave the meeting area to start working. How many are actually trying out the new strategy? How many are going right back to their old habits? And what can I do to coach them to try new things?
*Names changed to protect the innocent.