As I considered what to write this week, I decided to share a piece I was crafting for back to school, as an instructional coach/remote kindergarten teacher this year. The process helped me to focus on what families might need, as they experience writing workshop in new ways (i.e. at their kitchen tables).
Dear Families and Caregivers,
As we launch kindergarten remotely this year, I’m reflecting on what might be most helpful to share with you about writing workshop—the heart of our day. I have to admit, it makes me super nervous to NOT be in the room, day after day, as kids are learning to do the work of writers. I am so appreciative that you will be there, and I want to make sure that you have the support you need to support your child.
Thank you for being a partner in this work.
My number one goal is for every child to develop a positive identity as a writer.
Writing workshop is a joyful place where children have space to learn and create together. In workshop we are all writers and learners. We are people who make books. We are figuring out hard things, and we are gaining confidence and independence as writers every day.
Learning to write is challenging for writers of all ages. It requires perseverance and a willingness to take risks. Young writers need a safe environment that will support them in discovering the strategies and processes that work for them. Writers need to be able to make mistakes and learn from them, to celebrate and share their successes. They need to experience ownership and agency, to see evidence of their own growth.
It is essential for writers to feel like part of a community, to do the things that writers do in the real world. Workshop is designed to foster all of these things.
There is a predictable structure to a writing workshop. This structure matters.
- We begin with a minilesson,
- we spend a sustained amount of time engaged in the work that writers do (making books, drawing and writing),
- and then we share.
These three parts happen every day—rain or shine—helping writers to build stamina, confidence, and their own individual identities as writers. Writers learn to make intentional decisions, to generate their own momentum, to steer their own writing ships.
In our remote workshop, we will gather for a minilesson—I would prefer to circle up on the rug. . . but zoom will have to do for now. This is when direct teaching happens around both the skills and the processes of writing. We will study mentor texts, examples of the kinds of writing we are trying to do. We will write together. We will ask questions and make discoveries.
After the minilesson, it’s work time. This is where writers do the thinking and writing work that makes them stronger writers. We’ll start small (10-15 minutes), gradually building up to at least 30 minutes of writing time for kindergartners. Writers will draw, write, think, talk with other writers, and study books that are like the ones they are learning to write. This is how we get better at something: intentional practice with an authentic purpose, side by side with other writers with similar goals.
In the classroom, there is typically a busy hum during this time. Kids will talk to each other (and themselves), verbally processing as they work. I’m not sure yet how this might translate online. I’ll be curious to hear what you notice.
I would encourage you to give your child space as they write. There’s no need to hover. We want writers to be able to get themselves started, to make choices, to learn strategies for getting themselves unstuck. If a writer knows that there is an adult just waiting to swoop in and rescue them, it is way too easy to appeal for help without trying first on their own. Giving space communicates that you have confidence in their capacity.
Small Group Instruction and Conferring
In the classroom, work time is when I confer one on one with writers as well as when I pull small groups. In our remote schedule, each day there will be a small group that stays with me after the minilesson, while everyone else begins work time at home. This will give me a chance to offer more personalized support across the week to everyone. Please feel free to listen in. It will give you some ideas for what it sounds like to confer with kindergarten writers. (More on that a bit later.)
We won’t be gathering back together at the end of workshop to share and close the lesson, the way we would if we were in person. However, we will build in different sharing routines. Some days, writers will share with someone at home. On other days, writers will share with their peers via Flipgrid. Sometimes, I’ll work some sharing into the minilesson. We’ll mix it up, to keep things interesting. Big picture: we want writers to know that there is an audience for what they create. This is motivating!
A Mantra: It’s about the writer, not the writing.
Writing workshop is not about making a particular piece of writing perfect. These are beginning writers, and what they write will reflect their inexperience—it will look like a five year old wrote it, and there is beauty in that. Please don’t feel like you need to help your child “correct” their writing. Our job is to give kids so much time to write that they grow through experience over the course of the year. Their practice plus our mentoring and explicit teaching will lead to tremendous growth.
The teaching will be intentional, based on where kids are and what they need. As kids engage in work time, I’ll regularly confer with them—writer to writer. This is when I sit beside a child and ask, “How’s it going?” I listen. I notice. I offer feedback. This is an opportunity to learn about my writers, so that I can coach into the teachable moments. As you become comfortable, I’ll encourage you to confer with your child as well.
When I confer with a writer, I think about:
- What is this writer already doing well? I want to point this out, so that the writer continues to do it. Naming what a writer is doing also helps that writer to develop language to describe the thinking work of a writer. (You’ll be amazed at how your child begins to talk about writing over the course of this year!)
- What is one, specific thing I can teach this writer today? Just one. This one thing should be something transferable, something that, once learned, can be applied to any piece of writing. (Again, it’s not about THIS piece of writing.)
- Very often, the teaching point is connected to a previous minilesson or small group instruction. Young writers are learning to apply new skills to their own work, and sometimes a reminder of something we noticed in a mentor text or tried together in shared writing is enough to prompt them to try it themselves.
- For each of our writing units, I will share suggestions for teaching points, based on the goals for the unit. I know it can be overwhelming to look at a kindergartner’s writing and know where to begin. . . so please know that I will do whatever I can to support you, if you’d like to try conferring yourself. And—it’s ALWAYS okay to just offer positive feedback/encouragement and leave it there.
- Most importantly, I keep my conference short, so that the child can get back to writing.
Top five tips for supporting a writer at home:
- Establish a comfy workspace, with plenty of paper and supplies for writing and drawing handy. (If there are any supplies you need, please let me know.)
- Show enthusiasm for what your writer creates. Offer positive feedback, being specific about what is working well.
- Ask questions. Kindergarten writers can tell much more than they can write. Sharing stories and details based on their pictures and their ideas (even if it doesn’t yet translate to the page) is important language development.
- Don’t worry about what writers “finish” and what they don’t finish. It’s okay if your child works for 15-20 minutes and doesn’t finish anything. One of our longer term goals for writers is to sustain attention in a book project over multiple workshop periods, but that is not likely to happen right away. In the beginning, your child might start something new every day, showing little interest in returning to anything. That’s okay for now.
- Choose a special place for your child to keep all the books that are made during this time. It could be a folder or a drawer, whatever works for you. It should be accessible to your child.
In these initial weeks of school, the goal is to establish workshop routines and to nurture the love kids have for drawing and writing. We have a whole year to write together. Please reach out and ask questions any time, and know that teaching writing workshop remotely is as new for me as it is for you! We’ll figure it out together!
Reader, writer, and instructional coach. Always thinking. Collaborating to innovate the learning experience for students and educators.