agency · process · student engagement · writer identity · writing process · writing workshop · writing workshop routines

Mining the Moments Between Minilesson and Work Time

You’ve finished your minilesson, and kids have fanned out to find a cozy place to write. You might be eager to jump into conferring or to pull a small group. You might have that subset of kids who immediately sit down and raise their hands for help. Time is precious, so you need to get moving, right? 

True. And. . . what might happen if you challenged yourself to take a beat, to just step back and watch the transition? What might you learn about your writers in those moments between minilesson and work time? 

As I launch a new workshop in the fall, I’m always wondering: How will I know when writers are IN? What will it look and sound like when we’ve moved from launching to launched, when I can be confident that writers are invested in our routines and engaged in the writing work? 

In those moments between minilesson and work time—this is where I’m gathering the data to begin answering that question. I’ve realized that when I’m not in such a rush to begin conferring, there is much to  notice in those transitional minutes as work time begins: 

  • Which kids talk first?
  • Which kids seek solitude? 
  • Which kids enter into writing by reading? 
  • Which kids look excited to get started?
  • Which kids look less excited to get started? 
  • Which kids sit and think before picking up their pencil (or crayon)? 
  • Which kids draw before they write? 
  • Which kids write before they draw?
  • Which kids take a long time locating and/or taking out their supplies for workshop? 
  • Does the condition (or location) of writing supplies reveal anything important about the writer (or the writer’s feelings about writing)? 
  • Which kids reread what they have already written before diving back in on a new day? 
  • Do words on the page come in a rush or in drips with long pauses in between? Are the pauses in between complete thoughts or in the middle of thoughts (or words)?
  • Do kids stop and look up/look down/look around while writing? 
  • Which kids reference anchor charts? Mentor texts? Writer’s notebook? Previous work?
  • Which kids are constantly on the move? 
  • Who seeks attention? Who avoids it?
  • Which writers are careful and measured with words on the page, and which write without that internal editor turned on? 
  • Which kids write demonstrate fluent letter formation (or fluent keyboarding), and which students struggle to physically get words on the page?
  • Which writers watch other writers (or listen in on their conversations)? 
  • Who sustains interest in one project over multiple days, who jumps around between projects, and who starts something new every day? 
  • Which writers finish projects and which writers tend to abandon project after project? 
  • Which writers are quick to share their writing (or ideas for writing), and who keeps their writing close?
  • So many more possibilities. . .

When I take the time to watch and notice, it gives me material for better questions when I confer with writers. “So I’ve noticed that you tend to. . . Can you tell me about how it helps you as a writer to. . . ?” It’s important to me that kids know I am interested in (and value) their individual writing processes, especially as I am first getting to know them. Celebrating what’s working in terms of process—or what’s changing in a way that’s working/not yet working—is just as important as celebrating growth in skills. 

I love to mine these noticings for strategies that writers can teach each other (hello, future minilesson or closure share). As we’re launching the workshop, I remind myself that we’re not ever starting from scratch—even if it is our first time writing together in this community. So many minilessons at the beginning of the year in workshop are around process—the how of it all. And the how-master does not need to be an adult writer in the workshop.

It’s powerful for kids to hear how their peers get themselves started and get themselves un-stuck. Highlighting and sharing expertise communicates that we are fellow writers in a community of writers where we are all learners together. As we build community, it creates safety to talk transparently about the affective side of writing—including how feelings/agency/ownership grow and change over time. 

In those quick moments between minilesson and work time, as writers are settling in (or not), I pay attention to what is—the current reality. I seek leverage points to both know writers better and to support writers in continuing to grow. Over time, I notice as more and more writers find the processes and strategies that work for them.

When I think about the signposts that signal we’ve shifted from launching to launched, it’s not about the day when everyone suddenly begins writing immediately after being released to work time—because that’s not how it looks for writers in the real world. Writing is messy and individual and looks different for everyone. But making a point of observing those transitional minutes does build in space for me to recognize when it’s beginning to come together, when the workshop is gelling and writers are finding their way. It’s subtle, but being mindful of what writers are doing (and not doing) in those transitional minutes creates opportunities to recognize (and celebrate) the shift.

And my tip for that subset of kids who immediately sit down and raise their hands at the beginning of work time. . . That is a habit I am intentional about discouraging ASAP. I want writers to know I have every confidence that they can get themselves started without me. Taking that beat to stand back and observe means that I can’t head right over to solve whatever problem it is that they don’t (yet) believe they can solve on their own. “Go ahead and get yourself started,” I’ll say, “and I’ll be happy to check in with you in a bit, once you’re engaged in your writing.” 

I’ll wait.