Time is always a precious commodity in elementary schools. Making time for a daily writing workshop often means something else gets short shrift.
In the A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop: Intermediate Grades, Lucy Calkins asserts:
Writing needs to be taught like any other basic skill, with explicit instruction and ample opportunity to practice. Almost every day, every student in grades K-5 needs between fifty and sixty minutes for writing instruction and writing.(Calkins, 2013, 19-20)
Many schools are facing scheduling challenges due to the impact of COVID-19. As a result, writing time has gotten reduced in some schools. Some teachers may have lost five minutes due to the need for mask breaks while other teachers are facing larger chunks of time cut from writing workshop. While I am not a proponent of reducing writing time — because students’ writing volume is sacrificed — I understand that there are times you have to work with what you are given.
Here are some ideas to consider if your writing time has gotten lessened this year:
Shorten the Components of Your Workshop
|60-Minute Workshop||45-Minute Workshop||Other Option|
|Minilesson||10 minutes||10 minutes||10 minutes|
|Independent Writing (conferring, small groups, and partner work)||40 minutes||30 minutes||____ minutes|
|Share||10 minutes||5 minutes||5 minutes|
Record Your Minilessons
In Connecting with Students Online: Strategies for Remote Teaching & Learning, Jennifer Serravallo suggests recording short whole-class microlessons so you have more time to confer and work with small groups of students. She suggests:
Start by reviewing student work and your notes from the prior week to see what students need. Then, prepare materials — for example, select a shared text for students to read, create a demonstration text or chart, plan a read-aloud — teach and record the lessons, then post or upload them to whatever LMS, blog, or platform you’re using.(Serravallo, 2020, 70)
Students can view the lesson independently at the beginning of the workshop time so you can begin conferring or leading strategy lessons. Since you won’t be actively involving students in the minilesson, you’ll want to create a way to check-in with students who may have questions. If you’re teaching remotely (or need to keep students socially distanced in your classroom), then you can have students join virtual rooms where they can work independently, with a partner, or get teacher support. Here are two tweets I found with suggestions for doing this in your classroom:
Creating Breakout Rooms on Google Meet:
Creating Breakout Rooms on Zoom:
Use Tech Tools to Listen to Student Writing Ahead of a Writing Conference
While you should “teach the writer, not the writing,” it helps to have a sense of what students are writing ahead of time. If you have a conferring schedule, you can ask students to share their writing with you electronically. Some ways to do this:
- If students are typing their writing, have them share their document with you.
- If students are writing on paper, teach them how to take a picture of their writing, preferably with a scanner app (e.g., Scannable) so it’s easy to read. They can upload their writing to the Learning Management System, or LMS, so you can read it ahead of time.
- If you’d prefer to listen to students’ writing, ask them to create an audio recording of them reading it aloud. Students can do this through an LMS or you can use another tool (e.g., Flipgrid) for them to read their work aloud. If students are coordinated enough, they can focus their camera on their writing while they read it aloud so you can see and hear their writing.
By reading or listening to students’ writing ahead of time, you can reduce the research part of the conference. (Click here for more on the architecture of a writing conference.)
Schedule More Small-Group Lessons
In Craft Moves: Lessons Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts, I asserted:
Although we know teachers should confer with every student at least once a week, most of us can’t find the time. I know this not only from my work as a consultant who helps teachers learn to confer, but also because I taught classes that ranged from eighteen to thirty-two students. It was impossible to confer weekly with each of my thirty-two fifth graders because I only had thirty minutes of independent writing time that particular year. I could meet with a maximum of six students in a day — and that was if there weren’t any “fires” to put out. To meet with every student at least once a week, I began using more strategy lessons, grouping peers who were demonstrating the same needs.Shubitz, 2016, 33
You can form small groups of students by noticing who might need help after a minilesson, by reading students’ plan boxes, by finding commonalities after reading students’ writing, and by studying students’ writer’s notebooks. Also, you can focus on the writing goals you’ve set with each child. Students with similar writing goals can be pulled into the same small group lessons.
Provide Electronically Based Share Sessions
Even when time is short, it’s important for children to have an opportunity to share their work. However, time doesn’t always permit for a ten-minute teaching share at the end of the workshop. (Click here for more information on five types of share sessions.) Once a week, you might have writing partners do a quick share in breakout rooms. Another day, you might have students reading their writing on Flipgrid or on the LMS so they can respond to each other. Regardless of how short on time you are, remember to leave at least five minutes for students to share since sharing helps you engage all writers in a supportive, thriving writing community. As Lynne R. Dorfman and I stated in Welcome to Writing Workshop: Engaging Today’s Students in a Model That Works, “Having a share session at the end of every writing workshop provides closure to writers and often gives them something to think about as they ponder the work they’ll do the following day” (2019, 137).
Please leave a comment and share what you’ve done to maximize time if your writing workshop’s time has been reduced this year.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).