WRITING WORKSHOP: THE BEST STRUCTURE WE HAVE FOR INDEPENDENCE AND DIFFERENTIATION
If the idea of Writing Workshop conjures up images of classroom chaos and mountains of marking, read on! With effective routines in place, Writing Workshop might very well be the best (and easiest) classroom structure we have for fostering independence, self-regulation and differentiation. Although Writing Workshop can look quite different from classroom to classroom, its structure is quite basic: some teaching time, some writing time and some sharing time. The key is ownership: students decide what to write about, what to publish and how to manage their time materials, leaving the teacher free to provide group instruction and individual support. Furthermore, it meets every student where he or she is; for many students, this is the only time in the week when the work isn’t “too hard”.
You’re never done writing until writing time is done.
This “golden rule” of writing workshop establishes the expectation that students will be responsible for planning and using their own time. What a treat for teachers to never hear those dreaded words, “What do I do when I’m done?” Start with three options for students who “finish” what they’re working on:
- Start a piece
- Finish a piece
- Revise a piece
Of course, like any routine, this doesn’t happen overnight, even with older students. Each option may require modelling and guided practice before students can be expected to apply them independently. This essential “never done” routine not only honors the different developmental stages of every student, it frees the teacher up to confer and actually teach.
ROUTINES FOR BUILDING INDEPENDENCE IN THE WRITING WORKSHOP
1. Self-selection of topics
Students have plenty of opportunities to learn to write to a prompt in other subject areas; writing workshop is a time for them to write about what matters to them. However, we don’t want students wasting writing time because they can’t think of anything to write about. That’s why topic sheets like the LOVE IT OR LOATHE IT CHART are useful tools to have in their writing folders.
2. Managing Materials
Single side, double space…Revision is easy on a word-processor, but if students have to write with pen and paper, teach them to leave enough space for revising without recopying. Writing on only one side enables writers to cut apart the page to add, change or reorganize information.
Writing folder Establish routines for paper management right from the start. Check out this three-pocket folder easily made from a sheet of tagboard. The first pocket holds topic lists and planning sheets, the second pocket stores incomplete pieces of writing, and the third pocket contains completed drafts, ready to take to publication. In The Publication Journey described below, students only keep three pieces in their folders at any time.
3. Managing Time
Because every student will be at a different stage of the writing process at any given time, they must learn to orchestrate their own writing time. In a single writing period, they might make some revisions to an existing draft, do some research for an upcoming project and have a peer conference with a friend. A WRITING LOG helps students plan their writing time and record what they accomplished during that time, also a useful assessment tool for teachers.
Writers revise and edit (“polish to publish”) their best pieces of writing to share with an audience. Not everything will – or should – go to publication. In HIP Education Director Lori Jamison’s book Marvelous Minilessons for Teaching Intermediate Writing, she suggests that students publish one out of every three pieces they write. Read more about the “Publishing Journey” here.