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Sometimes we only write in writing workshop

 

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:

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  • 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.  

Tara Smith View All

I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

12 thoughts on “Sometimes we only write in writing workshop Leave a comment

  1. Tara,
    I am a HUGE Debbie Miller fan, and I remember reading something to the effect of teach so your kids are saying I can do this, now let me at it! Debbie’s words always make me chuckle, AND it reminds me to add that extra support, clarity, and or drama to the lesson, so my kids are ready and dying to write. Seems you’ve found just that in your teaching- KUDOS to you and what lucky writers to be in your midst!

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  2. Wonderful, wonderful! Workshop should be student work! This student-centered work is where we all want to end up with students working their writing. I love how they were chomping at the bit to get to it and continued to write. That shows such commitment to their thinking and their wriitng.

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  3. The key that I see from what you’ve said, is to let the kids pursue their own topics of interest. I see too many kids come to the library with lists of subjects to pick from, and rules up the wazoo.

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  4. Isn’t grand when you e created a community that loves to write. It’s what we all aspire to do. I love the resources you have provided your writers. I have resources in their Seesaw Writing Folder, however, I noticed that your examples have sticky notes with explanations. I need to do the same. Thank you for a great piece!

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  5. I was so impressed with this post! I think what amazed me most was the difference in student-teacher interaction in 2016 as opposed to my sixth grade experience (admittedly in the fifties). Back then, we were expected to sit quietly and passively absorb the teacher’s “teaching” (which often included reading from the textbook or having students take turns reading). We neither attempted nor thought we had a right to redirect how the class should proceed. I don’t know whether all modern classrooms are like yours or if this just reflects your style of engagement, but it obviously worked with your students – including your willingness to set your mini-lessons aside and let them write.

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  6. Yes! Yes! Step out of the way and let them write. One of the things I don’t love is how teachers read that Lucy Calkins says to stop partway through and talk some more as a check in, but it gets interpreted as teach another whole lesson. Stop talking and let them feel what writing feels like instead of what filling out worksheets feels like. Great post Tara.

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  7. Tara- This is such a great reminder. When we pack the writing time with lessons, kids have less time for application. We know that writers get better by writing. We need to give ourselves permission to allow ample time for students to practice, explore, and apply.

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  8. Tara, I really enjoyed this post. In a time when teacher talk often dominates classrooms, I love that you are willing to break the “rules” and follow your students’ lead. This instructional move is very intentional, although the intentionality might be less apparent to some. Kim and I have really been talking about the idea of intentionality and how it seems to be a synonym for teacher talk or explicit instruction. I think “lessons” where the teacher says little and the kids do the work take tremendous intention and are very powerful for students. Your students are fortunate to have a teacher who knows when to get out of the way. In a demonstration lesson recently, I actually observed students and read over their shoulders because they were so into their drafts, rather than conference with them. As a writer, the last thing I want to do when I am on a roll with writing and filled with energy for the task is explain what I’m doing, get advice, or reflect. And isn’t writing workshop about giving students experiences that align with what “real” writers do?Thank you for a great read early on a Saturday morning. 🙂

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