The role of the teacher is much different with a workshop approach. You become a guide who coaches your students through the process, rather than the person who talks at the front of the room, giving out and grading assignments. You don't just wash your hands of it all and let them have at it, though. Instead, you have to do some up front work and planning so you can do a good job of getting your students where you want them to be by the time the semester is over.
Depending on the age of your students, the demands of your curriculum, or your own philosophy, you may not be able to do a full blown workshop, as some writing gurus like Penny Kittle and Nanci Atwell do. You may have to, like me, adapt the approach, using it for only part of the year, or only with certain assignments. That's ok. We have to do what works for us and often that's a mix of approaches. Give yourself permission to just go part way, which is exactly what I'm doing.
There are many ways you can run writer’s workshop, but generally, you should aim to include
each of the following components:
1. Mini-lessons: These are short, focused lessons on what real writers do. During a min-lesson, you want to target a very specific aspect of writing that you want your students to work on. Keep your mini-lessons brief and then immediately give your students a chance to work on the skill or idea you have just demonstrated. You might begin the class with a mini-lesson, or give it afer a period of silent reading and or a writing prompt.
2. Mentor texts/exemplars: These are samples of writing from authors (or students) that demonstrate a skill that you want your students to learn, or an idea or technique that you want them to use as inspiration. These are most often used as part of your mini-lesson, but
I like to give them to students to use at stations as well.
3. Time for independent work: This is the most important element of writer’s workshop. Students need 6me to focus on their work. Students will be at different stages of the writing process: some may be in the pre-writng stage, others will be revising or editing, some may be researching or looking for inspiration in mentor texts. While students are working, you should be circulating among them, checking in on what they are working on, and/or conferencing with individual or small groups of students.
4. Conferencing: Conferences are where real teaching occurs, because you are talking to students about their writing and focusing on skills that each individual needs to work on. The student can share his/her successes and frustrations, and you can give them short, targeted feedback on how to improve. You can also conference with small groups. If, for example, you know that certain students are struggling with writing dialogue, or sentence variety, or embedding quotations, you can gather them together and give them a quick lesson. Conferences are also a way for you to give quick formative assessment of your students.
5. Peer revision and editing: This can occur after the time that you have allotted for independent work – or students can do it at any time, when they feel they need it. They will share what they are working on with their classmates and seek feedback to help them improve.
OK, let's get at it. How am I going to get it all done? How will I manage reader's and writer's workshop AND my full class stuff? To be honest, I can't tell you for sure until it's all over, but here's my plan:
To the right is the image of my planning from last year. I was doing reader's workshop for three days, and a more focused look at certain genres on two. Then, in Novem-ber we switched to full class studies. I'll still do that this year, but I'm going to do reader's workshop for three days and writer's for two. In both cases, students will have lots of choice for what they read and write. I will still do my focus on genres, but this time I will use the mentor texts for both reading and writing, doubling up to save time. For example, I'll start with non-fiction, as always, book talking non-fiction texts during reader's workshop, then using the same ones to drill down on certain skills and techniques during writer's workshop.
Still not sure exactly how to do this? Watch for further posts this week when I will give you more specific plans and examples.
Would you like to get some support as you plan a workshop approach in your secondary classroom? Join my Facebook group, Secondary Reader's & Writer's Workshop Support. Send me your email to email@example.com, or search this link.