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Sometimes It’s Actually Not a Choice: Accountability in the Writing Workshop

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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.

BethMooreSchool View All

Literacy Coach, Consultant, Author, Graduate Course Instructor, and Mom. Passionate about fostering a love of reading and writing in learners of all ages.

12 thoughts on “Sometimes It’s Actually Not a Choice: Accountability in the Writing Workshop Leave a comment

  1. I love this blog because it never fails to address experiences I’m having in my own classroom. This week, after a mini lesson with my fourth graders, I noted a similar response. Most of the students rushed through the assignment I’d modeled and set forth, and got back to their familiar work. On one hand, I am very happy they are excited to write! On the other, there are some valuable lessons they need in order to grow. Thanks for reminding me to address accountability
    –top of my list for our next lesson!

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  2. So fascinating for me from this vantage point of retired kindergarten teacher. It’s hard to leave that comfort zone whether student or teacher. I like how you quickly evaluated your goals and set out to help the kinders in moving forward.

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  3. Excellent points made. You could make the same observations with PD. How many actually go back to their classrooms and apply? It’s an ongoing process to model and encourage change.

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  4. Great post, Beth. I had a similar experience modeling a lesson from Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined in a 4/5 class. During conferring, it was obvious, few of the students had tried the new sentence, closer structure in their writing, and those that had, showed an incomplete understanding. Next lesson, we are going to the same structure and will spend more time in guided practice before I release them. That stage of support is so critical, and it is easy to shorten it too much. Thank goodness for catching this in conferring. On-going assessment is so important!

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  5. This post is timely as usual. I struggle with bossing my students’ writing. While I’m always mindful to teach the writer, not the writing, sometimes it’s difficult to trust myself and them. Thank you for sharing this experience.

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  6. Yup – right there with you. I have taken out the “choice” too. I noticed this was happening both in reading and writing workshops. I spend time on a really great mini-lesson designed to have them practice a strategy, ask them to do it with their partner, and then off they go and they don’t put it into practice. I agree with you – practicing the strategy modelled during I do and We do time must be solidified during the You do with someone else time. Feels so good to read your blog and have validation that I am not alone.

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    • I’ve been thinking about this more — It’s not that I want to take out the choice – -not at all, actually! I think it’s more that when there is something that is a turning point in the unit, something that I know will be the foundation for the next lesson, and the next, then it feels really important that kids practice the new strategy. Most days are not turning points though – most days are introducing strategies that really are choices!

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  7. Thanks so much, Beth, for sharing this story.
    “Every kid went off and started working on their own writing, out of force of habit!” – Many kindergarten teachers would be SO happy to have students writing! But you and *Jane were looking for partner work.

    It was GREAT to hear that your work doesn’t always go as planned. Coaching is required. I have demos next week. I’m going to build in talk. “Tell your partner what you are going to do FIRST when you leave the carpet” and see if their oral plan matches the ML. We’ll see how that goes!

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  8. This is so true! I was reading one of my student’s stories aloud with her, and I said, “You used allusion!” She said, “What’s that?” I had taught a lesson on it earlier in the week. So was this use just a coincidence? Was she even listening? Maybe in a small way we make a difference. All I could do was laugh.

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  9. I was just singing this blog’s praises yesterday and once again this morning I find a post resonating with me and sparking me to reflect on my teaching. “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?” Great question and one worthy of some investigation in my classroom! Thanks!!

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  10. This is my absolute favorite blog. You guys always make me think, give me good ideas, and make me feel good about myself as a teacher. Thank you!
    Cindy Jenson-Elliott

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