To me, “writing workshops” are those big ideas that people talk about generally but don’t really understand on a detailed-level. Like that Inception movie. I have been using a writing workshop in my classroom for the past four years, and while I am by no means an expert, I have learned quite a lot from resources and experience. I’d like to dedicate a mini series of blog entries to Writing Workshops, so that you can have all of the information you need in order to incorporate one into your own classroom.
What is it?
A Writing Workshop is a system for teaching writing in which students are given a lot of input, independence, and responsibility in choosing their assignments. A Writing Workshop will revamp your entire classroom. It isn’t something you tack on for the last fifteen minutes of a class period; it consumes the entire class for weeks on end.
When students are immersed in a Writing Workshop, they will come in the classroom door knowing the expectations of them. They will work on a task of their choice during the class period, with teacher-directed conferences and mini-lessons over specific skills.
What is it NOT?
A teacher assigning an essay to the class, the class all working on it for a week and then turning in final copies.
A true Writing Workshop is built on the idea of differentiation. Students may all be at different stages in the Writing process, and they may even be working on different tasks completely. As long as all students have an end goal they are writing toward, they would be participating.
A teacher letting students write whatever they want.
Some teachers are worried that Writing Workshops lack structure and thus end up with their students sitting and writing creative stories without ever improving their writing skills. A Writing Workshop is extremely structured (see my post on prepping for a writing workshop), yet a lot of the structuring is behind the scenes. Students know what is expected of them and are given different writing goals. However, students get to choose which goals to work on when.
What does it look like?
The beauty of a Writing Workshop is that each one can be structured differently, so I will give a brief overview of what a day in MY writing workshop looks like:
- Students come in and do the quick-check over the skill I want to focus on for that day.
- If students show mastery, they move on to whatever task they’ve decided on for that day (writing, editing, reading, publishing…)
- If they have not shown mastery, I gather those students for a mini-lesson where I direct instruct. I make sure mini-lessons go no longer than 20 minutes.
- After the mini-lesson, I meet with students for short conferences over their writing.
Why Should I Use A Writing Workshop?
- Differentiation. A Writing Workshop is the Godfather of differentiation. Every student is working at his or her own pace on an assignment that they feel comfortable with at that moment, all of the while the teacher is reviewing specific skills with students who need the help.
- Teaches responsibility. The students love having independence, but they quickly realize that with their independence comes responsibility. However, many of my students are so eager to keep their independence (you mean I get to pick what I want to work on in class today?!) that they accept the burden of responsibility that comes with it.
- Teaches ownership. I culminate my writing workshop with students writing a complete short story. I give them no limit on pages, and trust me, they take advantage of that – in a good way. This year, my longest story was 42 pages long! And while I conducted my workshop via Google this year (again, see my posts on how to digitize your writing workshop), I still had students print out their final stories. They said they wanted to see the tangible result of what they did. Nothing is more exhilarating to a teacher than a student’s pride in his or her own work.
Are you interested in trying a Writing Workshop in your own classroom? Stay tuned for more posts on how to incorporate and facilitate one!