As I plan for the launch of writing workshop, I’m always thinking in layers. How can I use the limited time I have to serve multiple purposes? This is especially true in a (potentially) remote teaching situation, when we have so much less synchronous time with writers. I’ve been ideating around how to be more efficient with time without cutting any essential corners.
Historically, these are my three biggest priorities as I launch (at any grade level):
- Building community
- Establishing routines (and ensuring that writers have agency engaging in them)
- Exploring strategies that writers use to generate ideas and to get themselves started
Additionally, two questions have been swirling as I personally strive to incorporate texts that better reflect the diverse experiences of students and families both within and beyond our community:
- How might I make the most of the books I’m reading aloud, especially as it relates to elevating and valuing students’ lived experiences and building inclusive communities? I’m specifically focused on curating texts that Rudine Sims Bishop writes about as being mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors for readers. (Here is a 90 second video clip of Professor Bishop describing her metaphor for why we need diverse books, in case you’re not yet familiar with her important work.)
- How might I more explicitly support writers in translating their experiences and perspectives into their writing?
I’m currently reading Peter H. Johnston’s latest book, Engaging Literate Minds, which has me thinking about structures that encourage dialogic conversation between students to elevate multiple perspectives—key to building community. A goal Johnston explores in the text is for children “to recognize books and the conversations the books stimulate with peers (and characters) as sources of self-transformation” (Stenhouse, 2020, p. 6).
As I reflect on ways to connect opportunities to get to know each other deeply through the books and conversation we share with routines essential to launching the workshop, I keep circling back to shared writing.
While many teachers might consider shared writing a routine in the primary workshop, I would argue that writers of all ages need opportunities to collaborate and think alongside a skilled writer to create a shared product.
The shared product then becomes a mentor text for future work, and the students who helped to create it have a deeper understanding for the thinking work required to be successful.
(For more background about shared writing as a routine, check out Beth Moore’s post, “Shared Writing 101: A Crash Course in Writing Together.”)
During the launch of workshop, I’m particularly interested in how shared writing might scaffold the thinking work that students do in their writer’s notebooks. In my experience, many young writers struggle to use a writer’s notebook as a tool. They’re excited to have a notebook but unclear about what to “do” in there. Shared writing can be a powerful way to teach writers how to generate ideas for writing and to get themselves started, based on the books we are reading and discussing as a community.
Choosing a Text
Since it’s summer and I’m not currently with kids, I tried to think out how this shared writing process might go with a specific text. I chose The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali (Little, Brown and Company, 2019). It’s a back to school book, the story of two sisters on their first day, extra special because it’s older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab. Younger sister Faizah is so proud of Asiya, and she is caught off guard by the reactions of some of the other kids.
In my own school community, I imagine some students will be unfamiliar with the tradition of wearing a hijab. At the same time, they will relate to many of the feelings and experiences of the characters in this book. It’s an opportunity to connect and to be genuinely curious about the identities and experiences of others. I want students to understand that as we build community, we need to establish a structure and set expectations for what it looks and sounds like to encourage and engage with multiple perspectives.
The Proudest Blue is an example of a text that will create an authentic reason for kids to talk to each other, to ask questions, to share multiple ways of seeing the world. In Engaging Literate Minds, Peter Johnston writes, “The important foundations for dialogic engagement are personal relevance, some sort of problem or disjuncture, and uncertainty” (p. 90).
The talk that happens in our workshops is connected to the writing kids will do. I want students to understand that reading and conversation are places writers get ideas. Being strategic with text choice broadens writers’ thinking about what they might share and learn about each other, as well as possible ideas for writing.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced writers who think much too literally about how a book they’ve read might inspire their own ideas for writing. . . My goal is to plan for a process that will surface the connections and the dissonance writers need to reach a more conceptual understanding of how writers get ideas from books.
Planning the Process
I crafted five questions intended to prompt students to reflect at increasingly complex levels about any text. Imagine the following on giant chart paper (or as a Jamboard in a virtual lesson):
I might or might not use all five of these questions. I’m curious to try it with kids and see which questions yield the best conversation and sparks for writing. I don’t necessarily want kids to think that they have to replicate all five questions in their notebooks to use this strategy. It’s not intended to be a graphic organizer. As reflective readers and writers, my goal is for kids to figure out for themselves what supports them in thinking deeply about what they read so that their notebook work becomes fuel for their own writing projects. This will look different for different writers.
My intention is for kids to engage in this generative thinking and writing together as a shared writing experience—one, so that they can build a vision for how the process helps them as writers, and two, so that they actually leave the shared writing experience with a potential starting place for writing. (This then becomes a strategy writers can use independently over time in their notebooks.)
I tried to anticipate what kids might share about The Proudest Blue, if I were to stop strategically while reading, inviting them to turn and talk. (Note: we would not work through these questions in a linear way. When I did this myself, I jumped around, letting myself think/talk based on what was happening in the story.)
As I walked myself through this process, jotting down what kids might say, it did work me toward authentic topics for conversation and for writing. (Click the gallery above to see how this happened.) With contributions like these on the chart, I can imagine thinking aloud about my own possibilities for writing, circling key items on our shared chart that helped me to get there, making a quick note to capture my thinking, inviting students to do the same.
I imagine the chart being a bit messy, an artifact of the big thinking work we are accomplishing together. A visual reminder—either on the wall or housed in our Google Classroom—that writers are readers as they head off to find a cozy place to write. After this shared experience, I would expect most kids to enter into work time with concrete ideas for getting started. It will be essential to have lots of time to write after this minilesson!
The closure of a shared writing lesson like this one will be important, because as amazing as the book is, it’s not about the book. In writing workshop, it’s always about the writer—and by extension, the community that supports the writer. Possible questions for closure that reinforce this idea might include:
- How did our work together in shared writing help you to find an idea for writing today?
- How does it help you as a writer to engage in this kind of thinking around what you read?
- How might you use this strategy in your writer’s notebook?
- What did you learn about a member of our community today as a result of our conversation? How does that help you to understand him/her/them better as a writer?
As students share what worked for them, I anticipate adding on to the chart any insights that might support us in the future. I predict hanging our artifact near the other tools/resources we are generating as part of our workshop launch, for easy reference (and/or housing it with our other digital charts in Google Classroom).
Establishing a shared writing routine like this one communicates that our reading lives connect to our writing lives, that the ways we think about the stories of others feed our own choices as writers. Making space to talk and write our way through this thinking about our reading connects members of a community and broadens our perspectives about the kinds of stories we tell about ourselves. This is complex and nuanced work, and with all complex and nuanced work, we can leverage the strength of the community to help writers to be successful.
- This giveaway is for a copy of En Comunidad: Lessons for Centering the Voices and Experiences of Bilingual Latinx Students by Carla España and Luz Yadira Herrera. Thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy for one reader. Please note: You must have a U.S.A. mailing address—Sorry, no FPOs—to win a print copy of this book.
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