community · management · writing workshop

Crushed It!

I recently watched a live social media chat on a new educational resource. One of its authors, Christine Hertz, was making the distinction between classroom management and classroom communities. As the author spoke, she talked a little bit about how we frequently build these lovely communities within our classroom that are clothed in the belief that children can learn the skills we are teaching each day. Then within those same classrooms, there is this other belief when it comes to behaviors students are unable to monitor themselves without some sort of management system.

As I listened intently to Christine’s explanation, I was nodding my head in agreement. It is this constant cyclone of thought that I cannot seem to turn off and around every corner, there it is again. How are we talking to kids? What directs our conversations? Who’s doing the heavy lifting?

When I center this idea around my writing workshop beliefs, certain management issues arise as problematic for the writing teacher. We’ve written about many of them here on Two Writing Teachers. The three I notice that seem to be the most challenging for teachers to let go are silent writing, non-negotiables, and teacher directed corrections.

Here are some thoughts to ponder as you observe your workshop.

Instead of an expectation of silence during your writing workshop block, consider:

  • Partner talk areas
  • Sharing zones within the classroom
  • A set time for talking each day within the workshop block

Instead of a non-negotiable list of conventional objectives, consider:

  • Assigning convention monitors or partners
  • Setting aside at least one-two mid-workshop interruptions for convention work each week
  • Using your word work or phonics time (if separate) as an opportunity to apply a skill

Instead of pointing out mistakes directly, consider:

  • Highlighting a mentor text with the exact skill the student is approximating
  • Using a demonstration notebook to teach into a skill
  • Employing patience

Ask yourself:

Is my workshop a community that adjusts to the learners or is it a workshop that fosters my set management system?

Am I honoring the needs of students as a facilitator?

Do I have knee-jerk reactions to students’ work or do I exhibit patience and control within my responses?

It can be so difficult to be patient with children when we feel as though they are deliberately failing to utilize our amazing models, strategies, and minilessons. It might even feel like it is all for nothing. When these feelings creep in, I have a suggestion for you, go back to earlier writing samples. Maybe you can access pieces from their previous teacher or earlier in the year. Go back. Take a look. Let them see what they know now that they didn’t know before. Dissect together their old writing and look for new bits of growth that have bloomed in the current year. Frustration can melt away quickly once a writer feels successful. If our habitual behaviors are reactions to missing periods, and gasps at the incorrect spelling of they, we really are missing the point. Are these things important? Of course. But what you need to ask yourself is, are they more important than the spirit of the writer?

9 thoughts on “Crushed It!

  1. Your last question “are they more important than the spirit of the writer?” is excellent! Love your ideas for letting the children be the experts, plus opportunities for students to talk with one another. Great ideas!


  2. You mention looking at writing from previous years. Years ago my department kept a file containing a portfolio for each student in our school. These were available for teachers to access and were organized by grade. Students took the portfolios w/ them when they graduated. Now we use google docs to collect student work and house portfolios. We have students move their work into their shared folder so teachers have access to them.


  3. All of us thrive on attention and praise. Heck, I still do at age 71! And kids love to talk to each other so it seems a no-brainer to allow for some chat time. Perhaps pairs or groups could then be asked to “report back” on what they have discussed. This might give some students who wouldn’t otherwise speak out in class an opportunity to shine. Nice ideas in your post today.


  4. Betsy,
    This is such great advice for the midwinter blahs!

    . . . :Go back. Take a look. Let them see what they know now that they didn’t know before. Dissect together their old writing and look for new bits of growth that have bloomed in the current year. Frustration can melt away quickly once a writer feels successful.”

    Focus on the “I cans” and how students have grown. In the midst of learning, the growth may seem miniscule but take a big look at all the “ways I have grown” and you will be amazed.

    We’ve done some work with one minute punctuation breaks daily during writing workshop and have seen huge growth in the students using punctuation in their own writing. But it required practice, patience and more practice. So much to think about in this post! Thank you, Betsy!


  5. Betsy, you are really getting at the self-narrative we help to foster in our students. Do we want them to see themselves as writers that can and are improving? Or is it more important that they comply with our set expectations? A lot of great points you raise here!


  6. I appreciate the question you posed at the end of this piece, Betsy. “Are they more important than the spirit of the writer?” If we break our kids’ spirits (as writers), then they won’t be open to any new teaching we do, will they?

    Would you be able to say more about assigning convention monitors or partners?


    1. I was trying to keep it short and sweet, so thanks for asking for a little more. 🙂 My students have writing partners that they can share their work with on a “listen to this” sort of scale. When I have a more specific purpose in mind, we change up the partnerships with that purpose in mind or I might say–“Olivia and Alex are going to be punctuation monitors today, if you need an extra pair of eyes, check in with either one at the back table.” It gives Olivia and Alex an opportunity to offer help/lead, they must monitor themselves a little better (because if you are the expert you better know your own looks as it should), it opens up the community for kids to be in charge and might feel a little less risky to a student who isn’t sure if they punctuated dialogue and want to find out. I see a lot more bang for my buck with this method than walking up to a student and saying, “Why didn’t you punctuate the dialogue correctly, fix it.” That may sound harsh, but I don’t think it’s a far cry from some of the conversations that are meant to be helpful but are coming from classrooms or even living rooms when parents sit down to read their child’s story.


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