My sixth graders have been busy drafting their feature articles this week, and I had a series of mini lessons planned to begin each writing workshop day. My students, however, had other ideas.
On Monday, as we gathered at the easel to begin the workshop week with a carefully prepared minilesson, I could sense a certain restlessness in my students. They listened, they contributed, and then they just about stampeded back to their seats. The main thing of importance, it seemed, was to get back to writing their feature articles. And, for the next thirty five minutes, they wrote…even when the bell rang and it was time to move along.
On Tuesday, our mini lesson consisted of a few quick reminders, and then my kids were off to work again. And that was the way the week went: forty five minute stretches of writing, interrupted by only by writing conferences, and quick walks over to check out our mini charts for references and quick fix ideas:
On Friday, as my kids filed away their folders and we brought the week to an end, I asked my kids to look back on this particular writing week; “It felt really different to me,” I said, “you guys just seemed to want to write, and write!”. “Well,” said Sam, “I was really into my topic, I knew what I wanted to say, and I kinda just wanted to go for it.” Her classmates were quick to agree. “Sometimes,” said Allie, “we just need to write in writing workshop.”
I have, of course, been thinking about this week (and that conversation in particular) late into Friday evening, as I closed up our classroom and carted my students’ folders home to plan next week’s instruction. What had helped my kids feel that they were ready and confident enough to dive into their writing day after day with just a few nudges here and there from me?
- They read and analyzed different types of feature articles – trying to figure out how authors managed to write about everything from black holes in space to the life cycle of obscure bugs in the most interesting ways.
- They had chosen their topics after careful consideration, and used their Exploratory Notebooks to hash out what they really wanted to say about the topic.
- They had spent a lot of time sketching out their ideas – playing with angles to explore, and stances they wanted to take. A lot of this time also included much talk about their topics, as ideas were shared with classmates and advice sought. What sounded interesting? What was definitely boring?
- They had researched carefully – through online texts, books, magazine articles, and videos.
- They had conferred and crafted a structure to anchor the drafting process:
- They knew I was there to help, and that there were classroom resources in place to reach for when they were stuck or needed a mentor text to refresh a craft move we had studied.
Next, they just needed the time to write.
Sometimes, I think we need to step out of the way, to forgo the prescribed architecture of our minilessons to give our kids the time and space to just write.