How can we support kids with reading and writing for longer stretches of time? If you are feeling like engagement and stamina are a challenge in your classroom, you are not alone.
Here are five key ideas to keep in mind:
- Setting up VERY predictable routines and expectations.
Without very clear, consistent daily routines in place, many students feel untethered and uncertain about what is expected. This can result in troublesome behavior, feelings of anxiety, and less interest in reading and writing. A consistent, predictable environment helps to make your classroom feel safe and nurturing, a place where kids can try new things in their reading and writing–because they aren’t worried about who they will be sitting next to, or what will be happening next.
Have you considered…
* Writing folders with green/red dots
* Writing toolkids at each table
* Pen and/or pencil cans
* Color coded sit-spots at the rug
* The “Magic Five” active listening routine
* Consistent comfortable seating around the room
* Consistent long-term reading and writing partners for each student
If any of these routines are unfamiliar to you, reach out to your literacy coach or a trusted colleague to find out more.
2. Creating many opportunities for talk within writing workshop.
For many kids (and adults!), the time spent writing is completely meaningless if they don’t have the opportunity to share or talk about what they are working on. Writing workshop has the potential to be an important key piece in building community and social-emotional connections in your classrooms, if only you give students a chance to talk to one another.
- Set up strategic, long-lasting writing partners that sit near each other and share work regularly
- Aim for every child in your class to have a supportive, productive writing partnership (this may mean creating some triads, where two students have each other with a third who is learning from their modeling)
- Students who are still learning how to function as a writing partner need lots of practice with listening and talking with other kids — consider placing them in a triad of two high functioning partners that they can learn from
- Provide scaffolds for language — sentence strips, charts with picture clues, modeling, and more. Don’t assume that any child in your class already knows the vocabulary for talking about their writing
- Involve students in talking during the minilesson, during designated partner time during the workshop, and during the share time at the end of the workshop
3. Offer students choice whenever possible.
- Offer choices of paper, writing utensils, and other materials. You can create a writing center that offers paper with just two lines, three lines, or more. You an offer pens or pencils, or a choice of ball point pens or felt tip pens.
- Offer choice in topics to write about. Don’t assume that students will trust you when you offer them choices. Take extra steps in making it very clear that all topics are acceptable and they truly can write what they want
- Offer options for how to spend the writing time. Some student may want to work closely with a partner throughout the workshop, while others may prefer to work alone
- Offer options for using technology. One student may benefit greatly from voice-text on a laptop, while the same technology could be stumbling block for another student
- Make flexible seating available to your students – some may prefer to stand at a standing desk or lay down on the carpet, while others prefer to sit at a desk or kneel at a low table while working
4. Offer extended amounts of time for writing, in increments to match your class.
You don’t need to start out with fifth minutes of writing time on day one. Instead, start small (even if it is the middle of the year). Start with ten or fifteen minutes of independent writing, a number that you know your students can have success with. Set a timer, and create a chart to show students their goal. Then add one or two minutes a day and be sure to celebrate every day when they are successful.
5. Use your assessments to guide your teaching.
One-one conferring is often the most challenging part of workshop teaching– but it is also the most important. When your teaching matches what kids need, they understand you better and have the confidence to write more and more each day. (When they don’t fully understand, it can undermine their confidence and then they tend to write less each day).
A surefire way to match your conferring to student needs is to use your assessments to get to know each student. Use your on-demand writing, their day-day writing, and everything you know about the student to select just one clear teaching point for your conferring.
P.S. I highly recommend this article, summarizing research on engagement in reading workshop!