“Young writers in Kindergarten to Grade 5 are asked to be amazing plate spinners, keeping many recently learned skills in their minds as they put pencil to paper. They attend to spelling, story structure, punctuation, connecting oral and written language, to name a few. In our quest to get students to become independent writers, we model each of these skills carefully, but we often gloss over the “We Do” phase of instruction. This book is devoted to slowing down that critical collaborative practice, so students get the scaffolding they need (7).”
-Leah Mermelstein, “We-Do” Writing
As a third grade teacher, when I look at my scope and sequence for each subject area, and I think about the students sitting before me, I can feel…overwhelmed. It is daunting to figure out how I will teach all that I need to in a way that meets each learner where they are. I’ve also looked at that scope and sequence chart and felt that everything seems so separate from each other. In my district, in September, the year begins with a unit on Geography in Social Studies, a foundational writing unit that launches writing workshop, word study focus on high frequency words, addition and subtraction in math, and building a reading life in reading workshop. There is also the important work of building relationships, getting to know students, establishing routines and fostering a growth mindset. I am not always sure how make those concepts feel integrated for students.
One of the many things I loved about Leah Mermelstein’s book, “We-Do” Writing: Maximizing Practice to Develop Independent Writers (PD Essentials, 2021) is the idea that collaborative writing experiences allow you to work on content related topics while practicing language conventions and language composition. A teacher might lead an interactive writing session at the end of a math lesson, writing about how students solved a word problem. The teacher could be working on the skill of capitalization while also helping the students share their ideas about solving math problems. In this way, time is maximized and students see connections in their learning.
The book begins with a letter from Leah, where she outlines her three beliefs from which she operates: instruction emphasizes purpose, instruction is joyful, and instruction is geared towards independence. These ideas are the foundation for all that follows.
Chapter 1, entitled Writing Instruction and Practice, focuses on the importance of the “We Do” model, one of the components in the Gradual Release of Responsibility model (I do, We do, You do). Leah makes the case that independent writing time isn’t benefiting students equally- some students need more supported practice to be able to transfer their learning when writing independently. Leah outlines her “We-Do” model, which includes three instructional strands, three corresponding types of writing sessions and three levels of support within each strand.
Chapter 2, An Updated Gradual Release of Responsibility, explains in more detail the “We-Do” part of the Gradual Release of Responsibility and how this model can help students become more independent writers. Leah explains how extending the “We-Do” phase “leads to more sure-footed independence” (25) for young writers.
Chapter 3, Getting Started, helps with the practical matters: what supplies and materials are needed, possible literacy schedules for K-2 and 3-5, and management tips. In this chapter, Leah also provides lists of skills and strategies and key understandings for conventions and composition for both K-2 and 3-5. I found these lists very helpful in thinking about the skills I could teach my writers.
Chapter 4, Interactive Writing, provides and overview of interactive writing and then six steps of an interactive writing lesson are described. Detailed examples of how an interactive lesson looks in kindergarten and grade 2 are provided. The Snapshots from the sessions (67, 70) were some of my favorite parts of the book because it helps you envision how the lessons would go in real classrooms. The chapter also provides an interactive writing planning template.
Chapter 5, Maximizing Interactive Writing Sessions, details six different classroom scenarios when interactive writing would be used. A list of helpful tools is included as well as profiles of students who became more independent with language conventions after interactive writing sessions.
Chapter 6, Write-Aloud, focuses on language composition. This chapter has a similar structure to Chapter 4- there is an overview of write aloud, six steps of a write aloud lesson, two classroom examples (Grade 1 and Grade 5), Snapshots from the sessions (102, 106) and a write aloud planning template.
Chapter 7, Maximizing Write-Aloud Sessions, shares six classroom scenarios when write aloud is utilized to support students understanding of composition. Helpful resources to have with you during these sessions are also described.
Chapter 8, Writing Process, describes how students can put together what they learned about writing conventions and composition and further their understanding of the writing process. Leah writes, “In this type of writing instruction, teachers support students in applying what they have learned in interactive writing and write aloud as they take a piece through an abbreviated writing process (127).” Later, Leah states, “Research shows us, however, that young struggling writers rarely plan in advance of writing and tend to minimize the amount of planning they do as they write. Writing process sessions are another type of “We-Do” writing that give students the support they need as they practice planning, drafting and reviewing their writing (130).” Six steps of a writing process lesson are shared, two classroom examples are described (Grades 2 and 3), Snapshots from the session ( 135, 138), and a writing process planning template is featured.
Chapter 9, Maximizing Writing Process Sessions, includes 5 classroom scenarios when a teacher would help students practice parts of the writing process in small group sessions. I’ve never thought about teaching students writing process in this way and helping them deliberately practice the different parts of the process. Leah’s examples helped me to see how valuable this would be.
“We-Do” Writing is a book that pushed me to think in new ways about how I can better utilize my teaching time, be more intentional, and provide more opportunities for students to practice both conventions and composition skills. It isn’t an overwhelming book- it would tuck neatly into your beach bag or backpack this summer! Sometimes you read a book and it is very validating and affirms what you already know, and other times you read a book that helps you envision a new way of approaching teaching. For me, “We-Do Writing” is the latter- it challenged me to see how I could strengthen the “We-Do” component of the Gradual Release of Responsibility model. There are so many practical and helpful ideas inside this book! I highly recommend it for K-5 teachers who would love more ideas on moving writers forward while maximizing time and building curricular connections.
- This giveaway is for a copy of “We-Do” Writing: Maximizing Practice to Develop Independent Writers by Leah Mermelstein. Many thanks to PD Essentials for donating a copy for one reader.
- For a chance to win this copy of “We-Do” Writing, please leave a comment about this post by Monday, June 21st at 11:59 pm EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name I will announce at the bottom of this post by Wednesday, June 23rd. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter this giveaway.
- Please be sure to leave a valid email address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at PD Essentials will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your email address will not be published online if you leave it in the email field only.)
- If you are the winner of this book, I will email you with the subject line TWO WRITING TEACHERS-WE DO WRITING. Please respond to my email with your address within 5 days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within 5 days of the giveaway announcement.