My dog, Indie, is thirteen years old now. He’s a little old man, in dog-years. His eyes are cloudy, he’s completely deaf, and his teeth chatter sometimes in his sleep. But he’s still pretty healthy, all things considered–and still just as stubborn.
When Indie first arrived, we wanted to give him a name that matched his personality. Within minutes of his arrival we started calling him Indiana Jones, which then became Indiana Bones, and then Indiana, and then Mister Independent.
And now, thirteen years later, I realize something. You know how people sometimes resemble their pets? Indie is scruffy, and stubborn, but very snuggly and loving–qualities which I suppose resemble my entire family. But I think that we named our dog Indie, or Independent, because it was a quality that we wanted for ourselves, especially at a time in our lives when we were just beginning to support ourselves. Indie has been our family mascot these thirteen years – he truly is independent, clever, and strong-willed.
Teaching my own two children at home is harder than I ever imagined it would be. As a literacy coach and consultant, I can walk into any K-8 classroom on any given day and have kids writing on their own, with total independence within minutes, so I am free to confer with individuals. But I am struggling to establish any sort of independence at home – even with Indie as our family mascot.
Independence is a quality, or habit, that I want for myself, and for my own children, and for all kids.
Luckily a workshop model has always revolved around teaching for independence. The ultimate goal has always been for students to be able to do the work without you.
When you are with your students at school, teach toward the work they will do on their own.
If you break down the parts of the workshop, you can organize the way you teach toward independence.
During the minilesson:
- Use language that is transferable. “Writers can always…” “In any piece of writing…” “Any time you write you can…”
- Explicitly talk about how students will do the work on their own.
- Use visuals that students can look back at to remember the lesson easily. Anchor charts like this one can help kids hang on to what you’ve shared with them so they can do the work again days, even weeks, later at home or at school:
During independent work time (in school or at home)
- Teach a very structured, explicit routine for the independent work time. Don’t leave students guessing how or where they should sit, for example. For a detailed breakdown of what the routine might look like, see Stacey’s post: The Importance of Establishing Routines or an old post of mine: A Game Plan for Writing Workshop Transitions.
- Be sure students have all the materials they need — and that you’ve explicitly taught students how to use the materials, and how to take care of the materials themselves.
- Teach students how to help themselves if they get stuck. Meghan’s posts give tons of concrete ideas for how to do this:
During the share or closing at the end of the workshop:
- Give students time, on a regular basis, to reflect on their level of independence, and what they can need to keep writing on their own.
When students are at home, keep things SIMPLE.
As a literacy coach, my work this year has involved a lot of planning and decision making about what our priorities are in literacy.
In my own district, we’ve settled on four key components for literacy at home, and they stay the same so that families and caregivers have the potential to settle into a routine.
- Independent Reading
- Independent Writing
- Word Study (phonics, spelling, handwriting, or keyboarding)
In our district, we provide pre-recorded read-alouds every day, in case families need access to good books. We send home book baggies filled with high interest books and poetry, and folders for keeping the word study and writing work organized. Kids have Chromebooks from school if they need them, plus lots of other materials they might need.
Speaking from a parent perspective here, anything that takes me ten minutes to do with students at school, is taking me twice as long to do with my own kids at home. Having the consistency of the same four things for literacy at home has been so helpful for me and my kids. My kids know exactly what they need to do at home because it never changes. Over time, we’ve gathered all the materials we need, and found places to keep things, so there’s less time spent looking for things. (And even still, learning at home is HARD.)
This quick video from TWT Coauthor, Melanie Meehan, is jam-packed with great advice for setting up for independence at home.
Keeping things simple for kids at home sets them up to be more independent. The more complicated the assignment, the more they need you to explain things, the more challenging it will be for students to be able to do the work on their own at home.
This is an equity issue. It’s simply a fact that some of your students have more support at home than others. Some of your students may not have any adult support at home. If assignments are set up so that students need adult help to do them, some students are set up to succeed, and others to simply not have access to the opportunity at all. But…if assignments are set up so that students can do them on their own, then at least all your students have a chance.
Meet students where they are.
That is the theme of this blog series, after all. Meet students where they are.
If your students, truthfully, can sustain independent writing for ten minutes, and not a minute longer, then eleven minutes might be the next step–an attainable goal for independent writing stamina–not fifty minutes. Whether your students are five years old or fifteen years old, meeting kids where they are means setting reasonable expectations.
If we don’t meet students where they are, if we ask them to do work that doesn’t match the stage they are in, then the only alternative is that they rely on somebody else.
I remember an experience I had years ago in a pottery workshop a friend convinced me to attend. On the first day of class, our instructor sat me down at a wheel with a big lump of wet clay and essentially said, “You think it’s easy, don’t you? Well, go ahead. Try.” The result was predictable. I had the wheel going way too fast, and the lump of clay wobbled uncontrollably. After spending forever just getting it into a flat circle, something happened and my flat circle was back to being a blob. Everyone around me seemed to be getting it – I was too intimidated to ask for help. I felt like I didn’t belong there and I was wasting the instructor’s time. Needless to say, I never returned to that studio.
As a teacher, I often try to put myself in kids’ shoes. I try to imagine what it would be like if someone were to give me assignment upon assignment that was too challenging to do on my own. What if, every day, I had to choose between asking for help again or just simply not being able doing the work? I think about how helpless that would make me feel, and how I would likely respond.
There are many things this year that are out of our control as teachers and coaches. But one thing we can strive for is to teach toward independence, so that kids can confidently do the work successfully both in school, and at home.
- This giveaway is for a copy of ONE of the following books (winner’s choice): A Teacher’s Guide to Writing Workshop Essentials: Time, Choice, Response by Katherine Bomer and Corinne Arens, Every Kid a Writer: Strategies That Get Every Kid Writing by Kelly Boswell, or Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing by Ralph Fletcher. Thanks to Heinemann (Link to: https://www.heinemann.com) for donating one of these to the winner of this giveaway. (You must have a U.S.A. mailing address — Sorry, no FPOs — to win a print copy of the book of your choosing. If you have an international mailing address, then you will receive an electronic copy.)
- For a chance to win this copy of one of these books, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, November 8th at 6:00 p.m. EST. Marina Rodriguez will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. Their name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, November 9th.
- Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Marina can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
- If you are the winner of the book, Marina will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – MEET WRITERS. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
Literacy Coach, Consultant, Author, Graduate Course Instructor, and Mom. Passionate about fostering a love of reading and writing in learners of all ages.