Creating independent writers is essential!
There are many things that kids need to be able to do in order to work independently during Writing Workshop, but below are two that are especially important at the start of the year. They are:
- Kids need to be able to make wise decisions that help them do quality work throughout the entire Writing Workshop.
- Kids need to be able to gather and clean up their supplies quickly and without teacher intervention.
I had the opportunity at the start of this year to work with a great team of teachers and administrators from Danbury, CT and together we have been looking at a few different factors that can support kids in becoming independent in both of these ways. In this blog post, I want to share a few things that we discovered.
Create Charts with your kids
While kids are working during Writing Workshop, they’ll have to make many decisions to ensure they are productive the entire time. Some of these decisions are:
- What do I do if I think I’m finished?
- What do I do if I don’t know what to write about?
- What do I do if I don’t know how to spell a word?
Teachers can teach kids how to solve these problems (as well as others) on their own by creating charts with their kids that outline a few possible solutions. I used the words ‘a few’ very purposely here. I think that too many options can be overwhelming, while giving only one option will not work for everyone every time. I love charts that have 3-4 options on them because I find that it gives kids some structure while still expecting them to be autonomous. Kids are also more likely to use the charts independently if there are both words and pictures used. A great blog to go for more information about that is www.chartchums.wordpress.com
Model how to use the charts:
It’s not enough to make the charts. If you want the charts to enable kids to be independent decision makers, you must model how to use the charts. For example, a teacher I worked with recently created a chart with her students about what to do if they thought they were finished writing. The chart had three possible decisions they could make:
- Reread your writing and add to it.
- Reread your writing and revise/edit it.
- Start a new piece of writing.
Before she put the chart up in the classroom, she pretended like she was a first grade student, and was finished writing. She then modeled reading the chart and making a decision that enabled her to keep doing great work. After she had done that lesson a few times, she displayed the chart in the classroom and explicitly told the kids it was their job to use that chart to help them decide what to do when they thought they were finished.
Have charts move from grade to grade.
While visiting first and second grade classrooms in Danbury, CT, I was floored by how independent the kids were so early in the year. There were a few charts up around the classroom already and the kids were using them seamlessly to work independently and solve problems during Writing Workshop. What I discovered was that the charts that the kids were using in those first few weeks of school were created the year before in their Kindergarten classrooms. Those charts then moved with the kids to First Grade. Teachers often become aggravated because they know that kids learned something the year before, but the kids act as if they have forgotten. Having the charts from the previous year made what they learned crystal clear to everyone and it also helped both the teachers and the kids to hit the ground running.
Create Clutter Free Environments:
Another thing I noticed while visiting classrooms in Danbury, CT was how clutter free the classrooms were. The kids were easily able to get their supplies, as well as clean them up without teacher intervention. Because of this, the kids spent the majority of their time writing and the teachers spent their time differentiating instruction by conferring with individuals and small groups. What could be better than that?? The classroom only had the materials out that the kids were presently using and teachers had made sure that they had taught the kids how to use those materials. Materials that would be used later in the year or the teacher’s materials were stored away, making it easier for kids to use the room by themselves.
I hope that you’ll add more tips to this list, as well as share the successes and challenges you’ve discovered while trying to create independent writers.
In future blogs, I’ll talk about other aspects of independence.