Picture this classroom scene. You are teaching a writing minilesson. When the lesson is completed, you ask students to try what you just taught. For some, this is no big deal. What you taught makes sense and fits into what they are currently working on. For others, it’s tougher. They are either unsure about what you taught or what you taught doesn’t fit into what they want to do that day. You know you should be conferring with individuals and small groups. Instead, you are circling around the room reminding, kids to do what you asked them to.
Picture this instead. You are teaching a writing minilesson and you give kids choice on whether or not they try it. Many, in fact, do try what you taught, but some do not. You are easily able to confer with individuals and small groups because all of the kids are deeply involved in their writing.
Do you insist, as the teacher in the first scenario did, that everyday kids try what you teach? Are you frustrated because even though you are insisting that kids try it, you have many kids who get nothing accomplished?
Or do you give kids choice as the second scenario suggests but find that kids are unsure how to handle this choice?
Giving kids a choice in whether or not they do the minilesson typically involves some forethought and planning: Some questions that typically arise are:
- How do I get kids deeply engaged in their writing?
- What else would kids be working on if they weren’t trying the minilesson?
- How do I ensure that my kids practice what I teach?
- Is it okay if they NEVER try what I teach?
This forethought and planning is so worth it! Once minilesson choice is established in your classroom, Writing Workshop will be less stressful and more effective. And who doesn’t want that?
How do I get kids deeply engaged in their writing?
In order for kids to make wise choices about the minilesson, they must be deeply engaged in their writing. In Lucy Calkin’s book, The Art of Teaching Writing, she says, “We teach into our students intentions. Our students are first deeply engaged in their self-sponsored work and then we bring them together to learn what they need to know in order to do that work.” There are many ways to get kids engaged in self-sponsored work but one important way is through immersion. Kids are not writing during this time, but rather reading as a way to get ideas for their writing. This is most effective if you do it for multiple days, but even starting your unit with a day of immersion will help students become more invested and more well versed in the genre they are about to write. If you are interested in learning more about immersion check out my book on self-directed writers.
What else would kids be working on if they weren’t trying the minilesson?
Immersion not only gets kids excited about what they are about to write, but it also provides them with many options of what they can do during Writing Workshop. It’s essential to let kids know that anything they notice during immersion can/should be tried throughout the unit. Another option for what kids can be doing instead of the minilesson is what they have learned during previous minilessons, conferences, small group or even share sessions. Again, it will be important to remind kids of this often, especially if they are new to having this type of choice.
How do I ensure that my kids practice what I teach?
Many teachers plan their Writing Workshop lessons using what is called the architecture of the minilesson. In this architecture, there is a part entitled active engagement. This is the perfect opportunity to ask all kids to try together what you are hoping they will eventually be able to do on their own. For example, if you are doing a minilesson on different types of thesis statements, your active engagement that day might be to have the entire class discuss possible thesis statements for the class essay. Even if you don’t use the architecture of a minilesson, you will want to have a time in your lesson where kids quickly try what you taught. At times, one lesson on a concept is not nearly enough. Another way to facilitate learning is to do multiple lessons on a topic. These lessons should be not be repetitive, but rather they should go deeper into a concept, as well as clearing up students’ confusions. In this scenario, your minilesson might not be the expectation on day one, but after you have taught the concept over time in subsequent minilessons, conferences or small groups it would be expected that all students try it.
Is it okay if they NEVER try what I teach?
At times, the answer to this question is yes. Sometimes the purpose of your minilesson is to expose kids to a concept and then move on. With careful planning, the exposed concept will be revisited either later in the year or in subsequent years. A common question that arises is How do I know which concepts to teach over time and which ones to expose kids to? Whether you plan your own units of study or use resources, it’s essential to do some sort of assessment at the start of your study. You can then use that assessment to make goals for your class. Those goals should help you tailor your unit to the kids sitting in front of you. The minilessons that relate to your established goals will be the ones that you want to slow down and teach in-depth. The minlessons that don’t relate to your goals will be the ones you expose kids to and then move on.
I began this blog post by emphasizing that giving kids minilesson choice requires planning and forethought. I hope this has given you a window into what some of that thinking might look like.
As always, I welcome your feedback and thoughts! I would especially love to hear your successes and struggles with minilessons.
Until next time,