Utilizing talk and conversation that lifts writers has been a common thread throughout my experiences as a writing workshop teacher. The importance of partnership work is confirmed in my own writing and again proved each year with my new student writers.
It is now mid-October, yet you may have found yourself over a month into the school year wondering how or where writing partnerships fit into your workshop. You may have tried writing partnerships and felt they didn’t flourish. You might have had a rocky start to the year and just been unable to jump into this opportunity. This post shines a light on what I believe are three elements you need to start successful partnerships. It is also permission to start over, or start tomorrow.
Much of my success with writing partnerships have begun with these three things in mind:
Let’s take a look at each and their role within a writing partnership.
Body position communicates a lot in partner work. Practicing body position work within partnerships acknowledges the importance of body language. Sitting side-by-side or face-to-face, standing at a counter, sitting at a table or at desks can all have their advantages and potential disadvantages. These can be dependent on the age and the type of work involved in the writing partnership.
When students can practice different positions, notice and name benefits to their work, and acknowledge potential problems, it makes the partnership work more intentional.
Resonance within partner work is when the back and forth conversations are resonant within the space between the partners and not disturbed by partnerships around them. This is challenging. I compare it to conversations at a restaurant. A restaurant can be a bit noisy, a little louder than whisper talking. I can have a conversation with people at my table, and though I might hear people around me, it doesn’t interfere with my engagement. The same can be learned in classroom partnerships.
Creating the talking environments that work best for your classroom can be a group decision, especially when partnership work is more spontaneous and not all at the same time. This allows for respect to those working independently. Determining these environments and zones within the classroom can help everyone reach optimal resonance within a workshop.
Focus and engagement within partnership work are when a writer can feel lifted, encouraged, and nudged. When partners are intentional about the work, they can set goals and grow together. Acknowledging predictable problems and addressing them head-on helps students plan and prepare.
When partners meet, encourage them to make a note of the focus within their partnership. These will help you reflect together on what issues are causing a lack of focus or what is working well.
Start with the question: How do we focus?
As students are making notes, remember to encourage students who may be challenged by this task to write that down as well. Not knowing is just as important as being sure of what we are doing. Making space for all responses and ideas validates the process of each writer.
Taking these notes one step further, the example below shows how you might structure the conversation after these initial observations. Acknowledging both what distracts partner work and what goes well every time helps writers effectively continue good practices while striving to improve others.
Conversations about partnerships within a classroom happen not just during a writing partnership, but across the day. Writers will learn and grow into the spaces within your walls. Letting them make decisions about where the work happens is part of the writing partnership process. Partnerships that carry purpose and foster growth are guided by position, resonance, and focus. Guiding the practice of recognizing when all these are aligning together is a whole class conversation that matches the environment you are presenting to your writers. I hope you find these three keys to success helpful as you launch, re-launch, or continue forward with your writing partnerships.
Several of us have written about writing partnerships here at Two Writing Teachers. If you’d like more, click here for multiple ideas and start tomorrow techniques.