Over the past few months, I’ve dedicated my blog to ideas for helping kids become more independent during Writing Workshop.
As I’ve written these blogs, I’ve struggled a bit with the word independence because I’m not sure it’s exactly the right word to describe what I am aiming for. The truth is, I don’t want kids to just stay out of the teacher’s hair while she’s working with others, nor do I want the kids to just keep busy. What I want is far bigger than that, which is why I sometimes question the word independence.
I’ve decided that for this blog post I will share what it is I am aiming for. These ideas I hold dear and true to my heart because without them, Writing Workshop simply doesn’t work as well as it could.
After I share these ideas, I hope you’ll respond to this post with your own thoughts.
1. Kids need to be engaged and working on exciting writing projects.
Part of the trick to getting the independent phase of Writing Workshop to go well is to work hard at getting kids involved in exciting writing projects. (Keep in mind that exciting doesn’t mean always easy or always fun). I’ve been thinking a lot about Donna Amato, a fantastic first grade teacher from Guilderland, New York. Sadly, I learned that she recently passed away. The world has not only lost an amazing person, but also an unbelievably intuitive, brilliant teacher. All I had to do was walk into her classroom or talk to her to be reminded that if kids are excited about what they’re doing, they will work hard even when the teacher is not working with them. In my book, Don’t Forget to Share, I wrote about how towards the end of Donna’s Writing Workshop she would say the following to her six year olds,
“We’re about to gather for a share. You all have an important decision to make and I want you to make the decision that is best for you. Some of you might feel it’s a better use of your time to keep writing. If that’s true, don’t come to the share. Some of you might feel as though a conversation with others might spark an idea. If that’s true, join us at the share meeting today.”
Nobody (really and truly not one single student) made a bad decision or fooled around while Donna was facilitating the share meeting with the other students. Rather, the kids who continued working were deeply engaged in what they were doing. Donna didn’t have a special class or perfect kids. She was a special teacher who worked hard at getting her kids engaged in their writing. How did she do that? That’s for another blog post.
2. Kids need to be able to make decisions on their own and understand that the decisions they make on any given day will be different than other students.
During the independent phase of Writing Workshop, I want the kids to understand how to make a decision that is going to keep them self-sustained and doing work that is appropriate for them. This is not an easy task, but it is certainly ‘do-able.’ Just yesterday, for example, I was in King Street Primary School in Danbury, CT and the students were working on editing and revising their Small Moments. The teacher, Lorena, had given the kids an editing checklist and the kids were using the checklist to help themselves edit their pieces. One student had checked her piece and she discovered that everything on the checklist was correct. My hope for her is that she can, without teacher intervention, understand that just because the checklist didn’t give her editing ideas, did not mean that her work was complete for the day. I want her to understand that she should continue rereading her piece and do what adult writers do towards the end of the process: make small changes that will either lift the content of the writing or improve the mechanics of the writing.
As I looked around the room, there were other students who were easily able to do parts of the checklist, but were having a more difficult time with other parts of it. I don’t want these kids to spend their Writing Workshop with their hand raised waiting for the teacher to help them. I want them to understand that they should use the editing checklist in the best way that they can. After they have done this to the best of their ability, they should simply start a new piece. As you can see from these two examples, I wouldn’t want all kids to make the same decisions because their needs are clearly different.
3. On any day, kids need to go beyond what was taught in the minilesson or the conference.
During our minilessons or conferences we are usually teaching kids a particular quality of writing that we hope they will try out (that day or over the next few days). Teachers will often say that kids are fine at the start of Writing Workshop but once they finish what the teacher taught they are unsure what to do next. Some kids are very obvious about the fact that they are finished and will yell out, “I’m finished!” or follow you around the room. Others hide it better. They might sit quietly, doodle, and color in their pictures as a way to keep busy when they have finished the work of the day. I want and expect more from kids during the independent phase of Writing Workshop. I want kids to understand that it is their job to keep themselves doing good work the entire time. I want them to understand that what was taught that day is only a small portion of what they could potentially be doing during that time. What else could they be doing? Again, the answer to that is for future blog posts!
Now that I have presented some of my rough draft thinking around this topic, I reach out to you, my lovely readers, with these questions.
- Is the word for all of these ideas above independence or is it something bigger? The word ‘self sustained’ keeps coming to my mind but I would love to hear your thoughts or what words come to your mind that best defines the ideas above.
- Are there other ideas you would add other than the three I have above? What are your hopes and dreams for how kids will use the independent phase of Writing Workshop?
I hope to hear from you!