Mary Ehrenworth · middle school · partnerships

Strengthening Writing Partnerships, Part 2

In late November, I wrote about a few ideas for strengthening partnerships in writing workshop.  That post can be read here.  Back in October of last year, Dr. Mary Ehrenworth of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project led a workshop on providing intentional instruction around writing partnerships.  Although partnerships are essential in a writing workshop, providing a much-needed structure for peer support and feedback, kids are not naturally good at being writing partners.  Therefore (as I wrote about in November), students can benefit from attention to and teaching around how to be better partners.

In my previous post, three ideas were shared: (1) Study existing partnerships to assess current and potential effectiveness; (2) Teach a replicable process for meaningful revision; and (3) Teach writers how to create process pages.  Today I will share just a few more strategies for supporting and strengthening writing partnerships:

  • Idea Four:  Personalizing Tools.  In the quest for upward trending data, it can sometimes become easy to lose sight of a critical goal of a workshop approach to writing instruction: teaching to independence.  In order to avoid teaching to a perhaps more traditional curriculum of obedience, one in which students’ primary writing goals are to follow teacher directions (e.g., complete this graphic organizer; follow this formula; now do this; now do that; etc.), we writing workshop teachers strive to equip writers with a repertoire of transferable strategies.  In a sense, we are working to fill an “invisible backpack” that our students can take with them to the next level, whether that be seventh grade, high school, or even college.  When it comes to writing partnerships, one strategy teachers might consider is teaching students how to collaborate with their partners around tools.  For example, partnerships might select from different levels of writing checklists that teachers put out in a basket.  Checklists can also be cut up and separated into component parts and placed into accessible location (see photo below).  Melanie wrote about a version of this tip back in January.  Her post is here.

In addition, teachers can make various mentor texts available— some written by teachers, some written by students (perhaps at varying levels of sophistication, if possible).  Teach student partnerships to (1) read the mentor texts over together, (2) select one that resonates as one to try and emulate, and (3) personalize the mentor text by coding it with colored post-its (coding for, “What is this writer doing that I could try in my writing?”).  Once students have coded a mentor text, the next step would be to go to work revising their own individual work.  Post-its used to code the mentor texts can then be moved from there (mentor text) to their own writing (student drafts).


Writers use tools to set goals


Partnerships work together to code mentor texts with blue post-its, naming what the author did that they want to try in their own work.

What matters about this strategy is providing students meaningful choices in their learning paths.  Choice increases engagement, and choice increases transfer.  At this point in the year, students are likely familiar with these tools. So you may consider asking partnerships, “What tool would be right for you?” and inviting them to make some choices.

  • Idea Five:  Display Smart Partner Work to Support Growth Mindsets.  Another important practice of a workshop teacher is kid-watching.  As a teacher and now a staff developer, I always try to remember and emphasize the notion that in a writing workshop, we do not teach curriculum, we teach kids.  This sometimes means watching and studying kids to see what strengths they bring to a writing life.  When thinking about strengthening partnerships, teachers can work to capture both phrases and actions of partner work.  What smart things do we hear our partners saying to one another?  What constructive work do we see partnerships doing?  These can be recorded and/or written down so that they become supportive mid-workshop interruptions.  Displays might also be created that show off strong statements partners can make or work partners might do together.

Strengthening partnerships in your writing workshop may sound like something you are up for; after all, as many of us know firsthand, a good writing partner can make a world of difference.  So, if you are considering implementing a curriculum for partnerships, it is important to remember a couple of key considerations:  for

When learning to do anything, we know that a critical element is repetition.  If and when you are choosing any strategies to intentionally lift the level of your partner work, remember that writers will need repeated practice.  It will not suffice to teach something once, then expect kids to remember how to do it the next time! They (and we!) will need frequency and repetition.

Also, as with nearly everything in writing workshop, work to honor approximation as the goal.  Especially when doing something for the first time, writers will likely not “master” what it is we are teaching.  Therefore, we understand approximation is a more realistic goal for which to strive.

We would love to hear from you– how do you support writing partnerships in your classroom?