The Right to Write: Starting with What Matters Most

In A Common Core Guide to the Writing Workshop: Intermediate Grades, Lucy Calkins states:

Writing needs to be taught like any other basic skill, with explicit instruction and ample opportunity for practice. Almost every day, every student in grades K-5 needs between fifty and sixty minutes for writing instruction and writing.

Although teachers must make decisions about their own teaching, no teacher on her own can decide not to teach math nor can she decide to teach math by simply tucking it into other subject areas. Asking children to add up the number of pages they’ve read or to count the minutes until school is dismissed wouldn’t suffice as a substitute for a math curriculum. Yet in some districts it is acceptable for teachers to say, “I just teach writing across the curriculum.” Kids summarize their Magic Treehouse book, for example, or answer questions about a film about sea life, and these teachers call that writing instruction. But is it? (2013, 19)

In an ideal writing workshop, time is allocated as follows: 10 - 15 minutes for a minilesson, 40 - 45 minutes for independent writing time (This includes five minutes for checking plan boxes and 40 minutes for you to confer and meet with small groups of students.), and 5 - 10 minutes of share time. As this graphic illustrates, there are 10 minutes for the minilesson, 40 minutes for independent writing time, and 10 minutes for sharing.

In an ideal writing workshop, time is allocated as follows: 10 – 15 minutes for a minilesson, 40 – 45 minutes for independent writing time (This includes five minutes for checking plan boxes and 40 minutes for you to confer and meet with small groups of students.), and 5 – 10 minutes of share time. As this graphic illustrates, there are 10 minutes for the minilesson, 40 minutes for independent writing time, and 10 minutes for sharing.

Like any other skill, children need long stretches of time to practice writing if they’re going to develop strong writing muscles. Seeing as muscles need to be used often to get bigger, it’s important teachers are providing kids with (four or) five times a week to engage in a writing workshop where they have at least 30 minutes of independent writing time. Without time to practice, kids won’t become stronger writers!

You don’t get good at something by practicing it once or twice a week. This is why I was never a became a good flutist when I was a child. For three years, I took a lesson once a week, played in the school band once a week, and practiced whatever piece I was assigned for 15 minutes the day before my lesson. If I wanted to become a skilled flute player, I should’ve been practicing daily for more than 15 minutes at a time!

As an adult, there are a handful of things (e.g., baking/cooking, needlepointing, Pilates, swimming) I can do well. Why? I have been diligent about devoting long stretches of time to get better at each of these things. Practice may not have made me perfect at all of these things, but regular practice has allowed me to declare myself proficient at each of these things.

So back to writing. What kind of writing are kids doing during writing workshop?

Youngsters not only deserve daily opportunities to write particular kinds of things — to write something that exists in the world — they also deserve opportunities to write for someone — for readers who will respond to what they have written (Calkins, 2013, 20).

The notion of writing something that exists in the real world for a real audience is what distinguishes a true writing workshop from writing time. Choice matters when kids are picking topics to write about. Providing students with topic choice (the majority of the time) means there’s a greater chance the writing will be meaningful and valuable to the child. In addition, writing for an audience — beyond a child’s teacher — is critical. Kids need to share with their peers (e.g., writing partners, in small groups, full class), as well as with people outside of their classroom or school community. That is, I believe kids need to have a writing community both in the classroom and beyond their classroom’s walls that will support them as writers. (ICYMI: Check out Deb Frazier’s post about cultivating authentic audiences, which was published earlier this week.)

The best way for kids to produce writing that matters, writing they’re proud to share with a real audience, is to be given the right to write daily in school. If kids have the opportunity to learn from a teacher (who is a writer him/herself) every day, cycle through the writing process, and have exposure to lots of high-quality mentor texts (from which they glean craft moves they can make), then students will develop their writing muscles. In turn, this will provide the children we teach with one of the most important abilities they can possess: the ability to write well.

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:

  • This giveaway is for one copy of The First Six Weeks of School, 2nd Edition. Many thanks to Responsive Classroom for donating a copy of this book.
  • For a chance to win one copy of The First Six Weeks of School, 2nd Edition, please leave a reaction to any post in the blog series, including this one, by Monday, August 8th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Dana Murphy will use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names she will announce in our blog series’ IN CASE YOU MISSED IT post on Tuesday, August 9th.
  • You may leave one comment on every post in our Starting with What Matters Most in Writing Workshop blog series, which runs August 1st – 8th.   
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Dana can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Responsive Classroom will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
    • Responsive Classroom will only ship the book to a winner in the United States. If you live outside of the U.S. and wish to be considered for this giveaway, you must have a U.S. mailing address.
  • If you are the winner of the book, Dana will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – THE FIRST SIX WEEKS OF SCHOOL. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Starting with What Matters Most in Writing Workshop