If ever I needed a reminder that I am in the right place, working with the right people, all I have to do is listen to the way teachers talk about writing these days:
“There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of writing,” they tell me.
“There isn’t time to set up my workshop.”
“Where’s the modeling?” they ask.
“I wish there wasn’t just one anchor text.”
“It doesn’t seem rigorous enough.”
I have spent the past few weeks working with teams to make sense of our new curriculum, one of the few approved under our state’s new law. One whose year-long lesson plans for writing fit neatly in a teacher’s guide that is skinnier than my car’s owner’s manual. To say I am skeptical of this resource is an understatement.
Yet every time I sit with a team, I am reminded that that is just what it is: a resource. While it may provide the written instructions, the writing instruction, that’s up to us, and when I listen to teachers, I hear a depth of instructional expertise that could never be packaged nor priced.
There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of writing.
In the first days, lessons dedicated to understanding an anchor text have left very little room for anything else, not to mention the focus seems geared more toward reading standards than writer’s work. Then we will spend a few days having students pre-write, draft, and move on through the writing process until, after fifteen days, they will have produced a single piece of writing.
Teachers know, however, that when it comes to writing, volume matters. That even from the first days of school, students should be filling up pages in their writers’ notebooks, making books, drafting multiple pieces, anything that puts pencil to paper or fingers to keys to build a habit of daily writing, even on the days we are reading like writers. As I walk into classrooms, this is exactly what I see. They are finding a way.
There isn’t time to set up my workshop.
The beginning of the year is also the time to establish the workshop itself. This is hard to do when the pacing guide is focused on teaching specific standards that will be assessed in a matter of weeks. Even harder to do when students aren’t settled into the routines that make independent and collaborative practice even possible.
Teachers know, however, that the days spent launching a writing workshop pay dividends all year long. We teach students what to expect of our time together as writers; they help us build expectations for our growing communities. So that assessment that looms on the horizon? It may just serve as a pre-assessment from which we will learn more about our students, even if we haven’t hit all the writing targets ahead of time. They are finding a way.
Where’s the modeling?
And what about those targets? You want a rubric? Here’s one. Want an exemplar? You got it. Need an anchor text? Sure thing. You even want a mistake-ridden “student” sample to practice editing with? Okay! Our new resource does not lack models.
Teachers know, however, that there is a difference between model as a noun and model as a verb. Like Amy Ellerman describes in her post, Modeling as Eavesdropping on a Writer’s Inner Monologue, teachers know that “without modeling the thinking, it is still a bit of a mystery how a writer gets from point A to point B—no matter how clear that point B might be.” Modeling honors the process, complete with all its messiness and mistakes. So teachers are on the lookout for opportunities to share their own thinking. They are finding a way.
I wish there wasn’t just one anchor text.
Overwhelmingly, the response to the texts chosen as models has been positive. The anchor texts are sometimes ones we’ve known and loved, more often, they are ones to add to our growing libraries.
Teachers know, however, the power of immersing students in stacks of mentor texts: towers of carefully curated books that help students notice attributes across multiple texts. Yes, this is the kind of reading that propels writers toward their own original works as it builds a vision for what they will create. That is not the only benefit: “When teachers immerse students in reading and studying the kind of writing they want them to do… they also teach students to use a habit of mind experienced writers use all the time” (Katie Wood Ray in Study Driven, p. 24-25). Teachers are using the anchor text and looking for ways to use more. They are finding a way.
It doesn’t seem rigorous enough.
While the anchor texts set the stage; many teachers aren’t sure that the exemplars are at the same level as they have expected in the past. To be fair, it is only the first module, and this particular resource is known for its spiral.
Teachers know, however, that the bar set by any rubric, model, or resource is the floor of possibilities. Through modeling and mentor texts, students access strategies and techniques that meet them where they are and grow them. When this is matched with structures that support time to write and differentiation through conferring and small-group instruction, the sky’s the limit. We may not be there yet. They are finding a way.
A Way Through
The things teachers are noticing are not unique to this particular resource. It is simply impossible to put all that turns lesson plans into the magic of a writing workshop in a spiral-bound teacher’s guide, no matter how thick you make it. Frankly, I am grateful that these authors didn’t try, that the one-page writing lessons leave plenty of space for the teachers to do what they know so well.
Because when teachers are grounded in the rituals of workshop, are practiced in the art of using mentors and engaging students in shared and modeled experiences, and ultimately let their students’ learning lead them, there is no resource we can’t find our way through.
If ever I needed a reminder that I am in the right place, working with the right people, all I have to do is listen. They are finding a way.