- Engagement and/or Volume: When that first (or early) day of writing arrives, what can we notice? Are there some students who dive right in, begin easily? Are there some students who seem befuddled, or perhaps reluctant to begin? Taking the time to make these early observations through a lens of a coach can pay huge dividends for planning early conferences and small groups. I recommend avoiding labels like “lazy” or “a behavior issue”; remember, these early writing behaviors are key to helping us know where to begin our teaching year. They are data to inform our instruction. And, like any good coach, an effective teacher works to meet a writer where he or she is now and plots a path toward future improvement. This might mean planning for a variety of possible early interventions:
- Who needs a small group or conference on ways writers can get started?
- Who needs an encouraging pep talk, or perhaps a goal-setting conference?
- Who needs a compliment conference to raise energy levels?
Noticing engagement and/or volume levels early on is a worthy lens, and showing students early that we see them and care tremendously about them as writers can help launch writing workshop on a positive footing.
- Skill levels: In addition to noticing the engagement levels of our students, we might also consider doing a bit of early research on skills. Who is using paragraphs effectively out of the gate? Who seems to already possess strong elaboration skills? Which students are approximating which language conventions? I always encourage teachers to try to view student writers through a lens of strengths- what can they do already that you might be able to build upon as their writing teacher this year? Avoiding classroom stereotypes and generalities like, “These kids can’t write” or “This class is full of writers” can help us differentiate our observations and likely help to create a mental teaching space for really seeing and noticing each student’s strengths and needs.
- Interests, Passions, and Life Situations: Although I realize there are arguments against it, I have always loved beginning a school year with a bit of narrative writing. When it comes to noticing, I love learning– early on!– about kids’ interests and passions. Who are the athletes, the actors, the cyclists, the artists, the scouts? Who are the musicians, the video gamers, the hunters, the techies? And also, who shuffles between two homes across the week, who is introverted, who lives with grandma, and who is getting over the recent loss of a relative? Noticing what matters to our students is a paramount duty to the writing (and reading) workshop teacher, as we work to develop a curriculum that embraces the critical issues that shape our kids’ lives.
For more than 27 years, Lanny has taught, coached, presented, staff developed, and consulted within the exciting and enigmatic world of literacy. With unyielding passion and belief in the possibility of workshop teaching, Lanny has worked to support students, teachers, and school administrators around the country in outgrowing themselves as both writers and readers. Working first as a classroom teacher, then as a coach and TCRWP Staff Developer, Lanny is now a literacy specialist, working and living in the great state of Connecticut. Outside of literacy, he enjoys raising his three ambitious young daughters with his wife, and playing the piano. Find him on this blog, as well as on Twitter @LannyBall. Lanny is also a co-author of a blog dedicated to supporting teachers and coaches that maintain classroom writing workshops, twowritingteachers.org.