There were only three more days until Ms. Teacherby’s* third grade class was going to hold a publishing party to celebrate the amazing work they had done on their information books. Over the course of the past month each child had drafted several different books, and had chosen their favorite to revise, edit, and publish.
I was visiting the class as a consultant and as a researcher. I was a familiar face to the kids, having visited many times. I had seen the entire writing process unfold in their classroom across the past few weeks. “What are you working on? How’s it going?” was my usual question to start a conference or a conversation with kids, but today, since it was near the end of the unit, I was asking something different. “What are you publishing?” I asked. “Do you know what’s happening on Friday?” “Who will be reading your book?” I asked.
Almost every kid answered something along the lines of, “Huh?” or “What is publishing?” or “I don’t know.”
It soon became apparent that kids didn’t have a clear sense of where they had been , or where they were going in the writing process. Ms. Teacherby caught on to this too, and we both were equally surprised by this revelation. The thing that we thought was most obvious, most central to writing workshop (writing process and publishing), was unknown to the kids.
At the end of the workshop, Ms. Teacherby and I gathered the kids and together created a chart to map out all the work they had done, from the beginning of the unit, to the upcoming publishing party.
Afterward, without students, we brainstormed different ways to help kids in the future understand how a unit would go, from the beginning, instead of waiting until the end.
Ways to Help Students Understand the Writing Process (and how a unit of study unfolds):
- Create anchor charts together with the kids, for each part of the writing process for that unit (generating ideas, drafting, selecting a piece for publishing, revision, editing, publishing)
- Set a date for the publishing party early on, and remind kids of it frequently. (Do a countdown to publishing each day)
- Include more discussion of the entire writing process in each writing conference, instead of just the work the child is doing that day.
- Retell the “story” of the unit periodically, summarizing what parts of the writing process have already happened, and what will happen next.
- Show kids how to make their own personal plan for their writing, using the writing process.
The personal planning, we realized, was a huge missing piece. The kids were accustomed to the teacher essentially telling them what to do each day, rather than thinking ahead and planning for themselves. There was choice. They had lots of strategies to choose from, but they were living day-to-day, not really aware of what was to come next.
That’s where Writing Calendars come in.
With a personal writing calendar, each kid can see what is going to happen in the unit of study, and has the power to adjust it. Even if all the kids’ plans look somewhat identical to start, the act of writing down the plan, and then returning to it in conferences to adjust has huge potential for helping kids learn planning, decision making, thinking ahead (all key to executive functioning), and taking ownership over their own work.
Of course, a single strategy is not going to be effective for all students. Even adult writers can tell you that some of us are “planners” (people that benefit from and even enjoy planning out our work), and some of us are “pantsers” (people who benefit from and prefer writing day by day without a plan, going by the “seat of their pants”).
A writing calendar is something you might try with your whole class, or perhaps just a small group or a few individuals who would benefit from having a better understanding of the overall writing process, and how a unit of study unfolds.
Once a calendar has been created, you can use it as a tool in many ways.
- In a minilesson, you can suggest changes or adjustments that your whole class might make to their calendars.
- In a mid-workshop interruption, you might suggest kids take out their calendars to self-assess where they are and if they need to make any changes to their plans.
- In a conference, you can ask students to share their calendar with you, and make changes to their plans together.
- In an end -of-workshop share, you might share a few examples of personal calendars.
Whether you are a “planner” or a “pantser” yourself, introducing personal writing calendars to your students might be just the thing you need to help students have a better understanding of the writing process.