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Writing Workshop Questions July 30, 2008

Filed under: thoughts,wn entry,writing workshop — hey2blondie @ 7:06 pm
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I am in the process of revamping my writer’s workshop because it is not working for me. I am curious to how you manage your writer’s workshop. I teach middle school so time is a factor. I have read that it needs to be at a consistent time each week–whether you do it 3 days a week or 5 days. I am considering 3 days a week, but what do you do on the days you don’t have writer’s workshop? Do you incorporate grammar within your writer’s workshop? How do you manage the noise level? (you know middle schoolers like to talk and it’s not usually about school) Is writer’s workshop only for lower grades? Most of the books I have read deal with grades 1-5.  How do you incorporate writer’s notebooks into writing workshop? So many questions!!!!

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3 Responses to “Writing Workshop Questions”

  1. Jessica Says:

    Hi there, I followed a link over from the Reading Zone and thought I could chime in. I have a sort of description of my program that I’ll copy, then I’ll address your questions.

    My writing workshop is only a year old and is continually in flux. It’s based mostly on Nancie Atwell’s ideas – that given time and individual conferences, students will write broadly, deeply, and – most importantly – care about their work.

    As with everything, context is important. I teach humanities to 7th grade, which means I have 9 – forty five minute periods per week to teach social studies, writing, reading, and language arts. I integrate the social studies as much as possible, but it doesn’t keep from teaching genres or books that aren’t related. The middle school where I teach has a one-to-one laptop program, so my students don’t have writing notebooks, they have entire computers at their disposal. I have small classes and highly motivated kids.

    I typically end up having writing workshop 3 or 4 times per week. I always start with some sort of mini lesson. They aren’t always great. Sometimes, the lesson is a reminder about where to find rubrics or what they should be working on. A lot of times, they are short and to the point – look at how this author made time speed along. Look at how this setting is so well developed. Sometimes, I get carried away and we have a thirty minute lesson interspersed with them trying a skill right away.

    Once I finally let them go to write, the room is silent, save the clicking of keys. I don’t know how I made it happen, but my students honor writing time as silent time. When I confer with kids, we whisper. Really whisper. (Chewing gum or mints are a requirement for me to teach.) I have records, copied right out of Nancie Atwell that I shall use again this year, where I note what each kid is working and focusing on. I have a little kid stool from Ikea that I take with me, along with my clipboard and pencil. I try really hard to make the student do most of the talking. “What are you working on?” “How is it going?” “What are you trying to do?” “How is that working out for you?” – or just, “Tell me about your writing.” My stool is the just the right height for both looking the kid in the eye and being able to read their screen.

    During conferences, I largely reiterate things I’ve already taught. It isn’t common – even though I feel it should be – that I’m teaching something brand new in a conference. It happens, but not as often as I would like. I like kids to set their own goals, so I ask them to do that as well.

    Your specifics:

    Age: Grab Nancie Atwell’s “In the Middle.” She is middle school specific. It is much different than writing workshop for little ones. I tried to use Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study for my 6th graders last year – stuck to the plans in the book pretty closely – and it was just SO SLOW and not appropriate. There is lots more personal choice in middle school, I think. More general mini lessons. More trust that they will do amazing things.

    Noise: It’s just not negotiable. They actually love the quiet time once they get used to it :)

    Writing Notebooks: Since I’m in a laptop program I’m really not sure. I think some schools of thought use the notebook for collecting seed ideas. Some use it for all drafts. I wish I could help more.

    Hope this is a little helpful. Feel free to ask questions, I love this stuff :)

  2. Shehila Says:

    Regarding your workshop questions, I’d love to email with you to figure all this out as well. I AM about to start my year with a new class (6th grade) and the 7th and 8th grades as well. I have read Nancie Atwell cover to cover and found that Linda Reif is also a great resource author as she has the same50 mins per class that I have. Atwell has bigger blocks of time, so she can do more. Linda Rief suggests a reading/writing notebook–one notebook for both. I, too, plan to do 3 days of writing workshop and the other two are reading workshop wherein I won’t do all silent reading after a reading strategy is taught, but will on Fridays. Again, time is the factor that dictates this, and both Linda Rief and Nancy Atwell make 30 mins of reading per night a regular homework assignment.

    I’m very nervous, but convinced this is a great approach for both middle school and my school. The talking issue is my biggest fear, but my first month and a half my mini lessons will be procedural–how one works in writer’s workshop, and I’ve created a grade sheet type of thing that I love that for my first time grades kids on behavior, time management, amount they produce in given time limits, etc.
    I’d be happy to share that as its the best thing I’ve come up with so far. I’m hoping the grade percentages for doing workshop with discipline will get the kids to self monitor better than they have for me in the past. As the other poster says, silence is simply what must be.

    If you get other good replies, I’m all ears!!

    Thanks

  3. I post lots of writing and reading lessons on my site. http://www.debrennersmith.com Don’t get scared off because of all the grade levels. If you put in Jeff Anderson or grammar in the search engine on my site, I wrote up several ideas for how he teaches grammar. He is awesome for grammar. I notice that you linked to my site, I appreciate it and hope you find it helpful. I love teaching writing. I have written two books about writing. deb


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