In today’s blog post I’m going to continue thinking about how to create self-directed learners: learners who are excited, engaged and continually making decisions on their own.
The number one concern I hear in my travels is: this. How do I help my students continue doing quality work during Reading and Writing Workshop even when I’m not working with them?
Really, the question being asked here is how do I help my kids become self-directed learners?
This post will continue giving you strategies on how to address this. Specifically, this post will focus on ways to conduct minilessons that not only teach new content, but also help kids become more self-directed. For the purposes of this post, I am speaking about Writing Workshop, but these ideas would hold true for Reading Workshop, as well.
On most days, make your minilessons invitations rather than mandates.
If you have been doing Writing Workshop for a while you’ve probably heard this suggestion. What I want to focus on is how structuring a minilesson as an invitation supports self-directed learners and how organizing a minilesson as a mandate gets in the way. As I have said in previous blogs, a vital part of being self-directed is the ability to make individualized decisions that help you move through the writing process. By asking kids to stop what they are doing in their writing and to do what you are teaching in your minilesson every single day takes away virtually all of your kids’ decision making.
Instead of mandating it, I would ask kids on a regular basis to make decisions on when and if they will use it. For example. I might start a minilesson by saying something such as, “Today I’m going to be talking about how to use describing words in your Informational Books. Over the next few days I’m going to ask everyone to try this, but you’ll be the one to decide on the exact day you’ll do it.”
Teach Concepts Over Time
One of the many reasons that kids are not self-directed is because they don’t have an in-depth enough understanding of what you taught and therefore are unsure about how to try it in their writing. That’s yet another argument for making your minilessons invitations rather than mandates, You do however want to ensure that everyone eventually does understand the concept enough to try it and then add it to their repertoire.
Because of that, concepts in Writing Workshop should be taught over time so that you can go deeper, into an idea, as well as untangle confusions that are bound to arise. The hope of course is if you teach a few minilessons over time on the same concept, your kids will have a better understanding of it and will be able to find times and places to try it out.
The Ends of Your Minilessons Are Vital
I just started reading Opening Minds by Peter Johnston. All of Peter Johnston’s work revolves around the idea that how you say something has a major impact on students. I couldn’t agree more!
The language that you use in your minilesson can empower kids to be self –directed or it can make kids believe that their job is to follow your directions. Look at these two different endings to minilessons and imagine how this language would hit your kids’ ears.
“If you feel like today’s lesson will help you move forward, go ahead and try it. If it’s not going to help you today or you feel you need to learn a bit more about it over the next few days, tuck it into your back pocket for another day.
“Today your job is to put describing facts in your Informational Books.”
Both of these endings let kids know that they will eventually try out the minilesson. The first one though asks kids to make decisions and the second one asks kids to follow directions. If we want kids to be self-directed, they have to be making decisions all of the time, every single day.
It’s also important to give kids some planning time before they go off to write. Again, here is some language that helps kids to see themselves as active decision makers.
“Before you go off to write today, it’s important to make a plan for your writing time. If it makes sense to do what I taught today you might want to start with that. Either way, I want you to think about not only what you’re going to do first, but also what you think you’ll do after that and even what you think you’ll do after that. Take a quiet moment to make the plan in your head and then share that plan with a partner.”
Once again, this language suggests to your students that you have full faith that they can do quality work the entire Writing Workshop. With the Common Core Standards asking for mastery, it reminds us how important it is for our kids to not waste a moment of their Writing Workshop and to use that time to practice what we’ve been teaching them across the year.
A second grade teacher that I work with at PS 230 has her kids not only say their plans out loud to a partner, but they also write their plans down and then reflect at the end of Writing Workshop on whether or not they were able to accomplish that plan.
What questions or concerns do you have about minilessons? Are there other ways that you have found that you can use them to help create more self-directed learners? I hope to hear from you.