There is something magical about setting aside a certain time of day when everyone is writing. We know that students learn to write by writing, and the focus of Writing Workshop is giving students devoted time for writing every day. The workshop starts with a mini-lesson, a quick, whole-group lesson that teaches students about some aspect of what good writers do. This could involve reading a story from a mentor text, modeling how to write, think-alouds, and/or direct instruction of something as basic as how to add quotation marks to a story. Another part of the workshop involves one-on-one conferring with individual students. Teachers talk to students, ask them about their writing, and perhaps teach something in the moment that directly applies to that student – something that they can apply to their writing right away. That is individualization at its best! Writing workshop gives children the time to write by streamlining instructional moments. One of my favorite things to do is look at a student’s writing sample from September and compare it to June. There is always so much growth.
This year, we have divided the writing units into three main areas: narrative, persuasive, and expository writing. Starting off the year with narrative writing is an easy and less intimidating place for students who might be more reluctant writers. It is always easy to write about what you know, and students know and can write about experiences they have had like special birthdays, the first time they rode a bike, a fun trip, or a lost tooth. In the younger grades persuasive writing looks like, “I have an opinion about something, here’s why, and here’s why I think you should have the same opinion.” In the older grades, writing about opinions and supporting those opinions becomes more and more important. Students were excited to write about books, video games, movies, favorite restaurants, and food. For examples, I read them Yelp reviews, as well as reviews that other students had written. Expository writing is easy to integrate into science and social studies. This year, we studied Seattle, and each student did a report on unique Seattle landmarks. Each report needed to have an introduction, supporting details, and a conclusion.
As Lucy Calkins says in her book Units of Study, “To make the most progress, students need ownership of their own writing, guidance from an adult writer, and the support of a community of fellow learners.” Of the many learning outcomes of Writing Workshop, one of the most important is that students become more and more comfortable being able to think of an idea on their own, and writing about it. In Writing Workshop teachers do not tell students what to write about. Ideas come organically, but students need to learn how to think of ideas. There is no curriculum guide per say, because student work guides instruction. Teachers look for common themes of what needs to be worked on in student writing and lesson planning happens to address weaker areas.
Ultimately, students learn to “own” their writing. The classroom becomes very quiet and focused. Students love the celebrations we have at the end of each unit where they get to share their writing with others. Their stories and poems are authentic and “theirs,” and as a result, most often, motivation to write increases, as do their writing skills.
Debbie Clement, 2nd/3rd Grade General Studies