When I speak to teachers, coaches and principals, they always say that one of the biggest obstacles to a successful Writing Workshop is creating independent writers. I’m not talking here about just getting kids to do things by themselves, but rather getting kids to make wise decisions on their own that lift the level of both their writing products and processes.
In my last blog post, I spoke about how the physical environment can support kids in becoming independent. In this post, I want to examine how strong management skills are another key ingredient to creating independent writers. As you’ll see, the ideas in this post are simple, but I think because they are simple, we sometimes overlook the importance of them. I want to share 3 management tips that have made all of the difference in the classrooms/schools I work in.
1. Be mindful of which problems you are solving:
Good educators want to help kids so if we see them struggling we, of course, have an urge to jump in and solve their problems. It’s important, in these situations, to look at the big picture of independence and solve the problem in a way that supports this.
Let me give you an example of what I mean here. A student is struggling to come up with an idea. You could sit and talk to that child and remind him of a topic/story that he could write about and then send him off—problem solved, right.
Well, kind of.
It’s true that you have solved his problem of not knowing what to write about, but the child won’t know how to solve it by himself next time. Solving the problem in this way might be easier, but the problem is that you’ve only solved the problem for the moment. You will continue to have that student (and others like him) look towards you when they don’t know what to write about. That will take kids away from writing and you away from conferring in more in-depth ways. You can’t help kids improve the quality of their writing if you are just helping them come up with ideas.
In reality, you’re only putting a band-aid on the problem.
In a well-managed Writing Workshop, teachers are always mindful of solving problems in a way that doesn’t just put a band-aid on the problem that is happening in that moment.
In the above scenario, rather than just help the kid find a topic, I would share some strategies of how he could solve the problem of not knowing what to write about on his own (reread old writing, think about topics that he knows a lot about, look at other books to get ideas) and then ask the child to choose one of these strategies to try that day with my help.
Finally, I would end the conference by letting the child know that the next time he struggled with coming up with a topic, he should try that strategy (or other strategies) on his own.
Keep in mind that whatever the problem is, (I don’t know what to write about…how do you spell _____________________? I am finished. What should I do next?) it’s going to feel easier to just solve the problem for them and be done with it.
I strongly recommend that you fight that instinct and instead slow down and teach towards these problems in ways that help kids see how they can solve them in the future on their own.
2. Be proactive:
At times, it’s great to think about the problems that might occur before they even happen and then try to teach in a way that avoids the problem all together. Last week, I was in Lorena’s second grade classroom. At the end of her writing minilesson, she had the kids think about what they were going to write and then turn and practice that idea out loud to a friend. Before she had them turn to a partner she said, “Now if you are not sure what you’re going to write about today ask your partner to go first. I’m sure if you hear what he/she is writing about it will help you think of a topic.”
Sure enough, there were a few kids who didn’t know what to write about, but they followed their teacher’s advice and it became a non-issue. I recommend that you take some time and reflect on problems you know that kids have during Writing Workshop. Then, think of some possible solutions and do what this teacher did: Try and solve it before it even becomes a problem.
3. Get comfortable with silence:
Sometimes the solution is easier than we think—just stop talking and give them time to figure it out on their own. ☺
This same teacher had one child who still didn’t know what to write about. Rather than jumping in and talking to the child, she solved the problem with silence. She said, “Why don’t you go back to your seat and give yourself a moment to think? I have a feeling that will help.”
The student went back to his seat and the teacher –as she always did-spent the first few minutes watching the kids but not talking to them.
Sure enough, when she went to check in with him after a few minutes of silence, he had thought of an idea and happily started to make his book. Because we’re in the habit of helping, I often see teachers jumping in to solve problems that really could be solved by the kids if they just had some time and some quiet moments to process.
Letting the kids solve problems on their own has many benefits. One, it will help the kids realize that if they are patient with themselves they can actually solve problems on their own. Additionally, by not solving the problem you are actually empowering them in huge ways. Think of how good it feels to solve something on your own that you weren’t sure you could. That’s exactly how kids feel when they do it. If we always solve their problems for them, we rob them of that amazing feeling! Don’t rob them of this.
Embrace the silence and empower kids to solve problems on their own!
As you move into November, I suggest that you reflect upon these seemingly simple management techniques and ensure that they are in place. If they are not, slow down and work on them because if you don’t it will be nearly impossible to move into more in-depth teaching.
Many teachers are moving into Units of Study such as personal narrative, small moments, persuasive writing, and non-fiction to name a few. On top of that, they are trying to align these units of study with the Common Core Standards. This will be impossible if the kids are unable to work independently.
Please add other management tips to this list that have helped you to run a Writing Workshop where kids joyfully and independently make decisions that ultimately improve their writing and allows for in-depth teaching inside your Units of Study.