Writers’ Workshop Live #sol18

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Here am I trying to nudge students into their ideas rather than summaries in literary essays by sharing some peer craft moves.  Alongside,  my assistance conduct their own writing conferences.

Writers’ Workshop Live

March 28, 2018

As part of my role as literacy specialist in an elementary building,  I co-teach in several classrooms in either reading or writing workshop. My primary role is to support fragile learners, but as all teachers,  I support whomever comes along.  This bunch of third grade learners have known me since their kindergarten days and their teacher and I have worked together often, though not in this consistent role until this year.  The teacher and I meet weekly to discuss assessments, student progress, planning, resources, and all things related to third grade literacy.  I join the student during their writing block in the afternoons for 40-45 minutes a day.  As all classes,  it is a mixed bag.  

Chapter 1

One day a few weeks ago,  I was away at a meeting in the afternoon and wasn’t able to go to third grade writers’ workshop.  This conversation ensued in my absence.

Protester #1:  This is the worst 15 minutes of my life. 

Patient Teacher:  The worst?  Really? 

Protester #1:  Ok, Top Three.   Stitches,  Waiting for Stitches and This. 15. Minutes. Right. Now.  (dramatic sigh, head on desk)

Protester #2:  Who invented writing anyway?

Protester #3:  I don’t know.  Mrs. Kennedy?

Chapter 2

Last week in writers’ workshop, the third graders were working on persuasive pieces as the lead up to their baby literary essay unit.  They brainstormed some ideas together, but around six students decided to write their persuasive essay about how we shouldn’t have writing at 2 p.m.  Their basic arguments were that they were smarter in the morning, their brains were less full, and an “easy subject” like reading could be moved to the afternoon.  They became quite vocal about it and I think began to believe that we could change writing time.  Because of the specialist schedules in her room (not mine),  the teacher has to have writing at this time which she has explained.  Finally on Monday, she told the kiddos,  “I’m just not going to listen to this anymore.  Get to work.”

We read the book, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon and began the work of growing an idea  about a character and supporting in with three details from the text.

Chapter 3

Today in writers workshop, the teacher did the introduction and most of the kiddos stayed on the carpet to finish their second paragraph or move into their third.  I moved a stool onto the rug and began rehearsing sentences with protester #1.  Writers came up to have me read their work and approve it. Why do they do that?  Because I keep letting them.  I say,  what’s up?  Can you read this?  Sure.  I read it and hand it back. What do you think you might do now?  Is it good?  What do you think?  Have your writing partner confer with you.  or I’m done.  Sure, did you use some of our expert sentences?  Did you use some evidence?  Do you have a full paragraph?  Student slowly backs up. Hey kiddos,  remember, we are writing our fresh ideas, not the ideas of our character or summarizing.   But then,  I started reading some fresh thinking.  I send those kiddos off with the line that’s forming and they become the assistance.  misspell and pun intended.  

Toward the end of workshop I say to the teacher, I’m not sure I want to say this out loud, but it’s going pretty good.  Did you check out some work?   She says, yes,  good.   The assistants are into it.  But I have to tell you something.  I told them you were sad and you wouldn’t come back to workshop unless they worked hard.  

I guffawed.  How did that work? 

What really worked most likely is lean prompts, loose scaffolds, and mentors, both the book itself, and essays shaping up about book along with other students sharing ideas.  There were four adults in the room.  A para-educator working with student who have writing support plans.  A therapist working on ‘writing in the wild’,  the classroom teacher, and me.  We are currently teaching an If/Then Unit in Calkins’ Writing,  Baby Literary Essay.  We are on week 2, having taught a week of persuasion.  This unit is timely, as state testing is coming up. We keep it real knowing this is the type of writing these students will be doing the rest of their academic careers.  We find picture books great prompts.  The classroom teacher was using No David as an alternative text for a fragile learner.  She has a basket of great mentors for character change at the ready.  If you use the Calkins’ Units,  this unit has been reworked just this past fall and is available in the general information section of the third grade writing units online resources on Heinemann.com.  

My response to the classroom teacher’s tweet.

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Though now that I think about it,  I’d rather be Patricia Heaton.  She plays a convincing midwesterner in The Middle.

img_1405  Just your average writing teacher,  slicing every day for 31 days.  This is day 28 of a 31 day writing streak as part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge.  Read some fascinating blogs here at Two Writing Teachers.

9 thoughts on “Writers’ Workshop Live #sol18

  1. You have some very funny lines in here. I especially like the conversation between you and the protesters. Who invented writing anyway? And yes, instructional moves matter, but so do relationships. Those kiddos might have picked up their game if they thought you were sad.

  2. I’m fascinated by this peek into this classroom for several reasons: 1. The kids are right: morning is better firvwritung instruction than late afternoon. 2. You use the word “theory” in a way I’ve never heard it used in teaching character analysis. In AP Lit I ask students what insights they find about ideas and characters in a text. 3. I don’t recall analyzing lit in 3rd grade and wonder how students in my district write about literature because even juniors and seniors still revert to plot summary. 4. I’m wondering if the Caulkins book would be useful for high school students. 5. I’ve taught 37 years and never had four adults in a classroom assisting students. I can’t imagine what that’s like.

    • Glenda, I often wish our elementary teams could meet with our high school English department. I started my teaching career in high school, then middle, and now as a reading consultant in a K-5 building. The beauty of what we do in workshop is that we give students specific strategies for different skills…and what these units ask is BIG. Even within a building that uses these units across grades there are readers & writers who will feign utter ignorance of something we know was introduced. I’ve found that having common language and referring back to the strategies from the previous week/unit/year is often enough to shake the memory loose. I think high school teachers might find it useful to immerse in some of the strategy language from even the elementary units…and then adapt and grow from there. There are good things that all of us do. We could always learn from each other.

      • Education is notorious for changing its language, so today’s “strategy language” has a limited shelf life. This isn’t as true in subject-area writing, so I can’t consider using “theory” as a way to discuss analyzing literature. It muddies the waters. I do think many secondary teachers need a stronger understanding of pedagogy, especially w/ so many alternate route teachers entering the profession. I don’t see giving students strategies as unique to elementary teachers. I spend a lot of time w/ both speech and English students on strategies, but as Carol Jago says, the best way to teach students to write well in AP is to read, write, and discuss literature.

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