The Dilemma of Two O’Clock Writing: Who’s hair is on fire?

The Dilemma of Two O’Clock Writing: Who’s Hair is on fire?

July 16, 2018

True Story:  Two o’clock writing workshop is the pits.  Even I think so. But I let that two o’clock writing get into the students’ heads and into mine.  They would write more about how they couldn’t write at 2 p.m. than about whatever they were intended to write about day after day.  Chaos broke out. How they couldn’t write filled their thoughts and they no longer focused on what and how to write. My co-teacher and I discussed all the things we might do to engage the students in writing.  Nothing really worked. Why?

What we Hear: The teacher is the key.

We as educators get a great deal of coaching these days about motivating students.  Teach like a ______.  Teach like your ________ is on fire.  It’s all about what we do, how we can change.

Recently,  I’ve been coaching more about letting students be in the struggle as they work, no longer jumping to rescue them.  A quick reference here for those who are wondering about this idea.  (Scaffold or Rescue)  Moving educators away from compliance tasks to inquiry stance.  Thinking and practicing carefully crafted mindset motivating language.

Is it Skill or Motivation?

The questions still lingered.  What is holding us back? The idea seems straightforward: skill or motivation.  With a deeper look, it appears. What are the criteria for success? How can I get there, and why would it be important to arrive?  So this year, as we prepare for fall, let’s think less about being entertaining and more about authenticity, focusing on these questions.

Why? Why might success be important to an individual or the group? What is the nugget of this exercise?

For example,  in writing an information article, the writer is teaching someone something. We routine show students examples of this writing in the wild; real world applications.  Still students routinely stare at the page and state I have noting to writing about.  Why?  Perhaps the students believe that their audience shares their same knowledge.  Perspective might be the motivator in this case. No one else is going to tell it your way,  from your perspective.

Helping Students See  Purpose and More

Ok,  perspective, but then what?  Let’s press pause here and say to the kids: yes,  then what?  Why do you think this might be important/relevant/something you want to do? Then painstakingly wait.  Wait past the I don’t know, the silence, the distractions.  Just like Field of Dreams, if we build it,  they will come. All the while, subtly reading Pink is for  Blobfish.  Filling heads with ideas.  Noticing ideas for your objectives as you wait in line for music, listen to a podcast, read aloud another book.  Noting casual comments of kids and bringing them back to so what.

Here is the place for our energy.  The subtle, elusive steps to success.  Sometime we rush in this place. We’ve got four weeks to finish this writing unit.  We want students to write two information pieces a week.  WHY is the kid still on page one?!?!? Breathe in and breathe out.  Here we land at strategic planning.  This is the place our energy and their motivation lie.   Step by step we plan as an architect plans a building for we are architects of this learning.

Plan for Success= Success of the Plan

First, what are the skills needed to be successful in this task at any time.The skeleton of the activity.  In order to be there, it’s helpful to read A LOT of mentor texts, write a lot, experiment, rehearse, practice.  When we put ourselves in the time, the barriers, the thick of the activity and consider how will I explain success.  The students can be part of this: looking at resources, reading, developing exemplars, forming the statement: if successful, we will…

Knowing that struggle will happen,  how will we notice the first signs? What might we do when that struggle occurs?  Again, we go to the students. We know as educators, we might go back to the success point for most students.  Rewind talk. Remember when we… How did we…    Find this in your…     Explain it to your partner.   

Wait for lightbulbs.

Next, we want to…

Don’t fill in… Lead.  Let student think it and talk it through. Try it out together. (active engagement) Go of to try in a specific place. Explain or show a partner where.  Listen. Keep stragglers on the rug to rework. This method will work for whole groups, strategy groups, and conferring. Then share out. What did you try?  I noticed Sean tried this… Can we see?   Post idea or success as mentors.

Specific Plans

Time for specifics. These specifics will develop in the fray including conferring, strategy groups., mini-lessons, micro-progressions, reworking mini-lessons, reteaching in the whole group and in strategy groups, and very carefully chosen and strategic sharing.

What will we look for in independent work time?  Evidence of current lessons. When preparing for conferring have on hand a list of recent topics or strategies revealed, exemplars of these strategies, mentors, and specific tools to teach quickly in.  Leave with a plan remembering whose plan it is. You might offer choices. Will you try this or that?  Be specific.

From these you might plan a number of things for your current independent work time.  A strategy group or class reteach could go back a step or two to a place of success. A share could reinforce what most get scaffolding to the next step.

Coaching Tip:                                                                                                                                           If more than 50% of your students are in the weeds, reteach.                                                   If 25%, form strategy group(s)                                                                                                          If 10%, confer 1:1.

Develop your sweet spot. Feel your way to what percentages feel right for you.

Think of your developed criteria.  Notice three specific things to work on.

Perhaps this is a place for love in the real world.  To work on word solving and fluency with a student recently, I spent fifteen minutes a day listening to him reading Dogman to me.  A student who loves Dogman might write stories and sequels in that graphic format.  Our news feeds are filled with inquiries from other teachers, what are your read alouds.  In that place, read aloud, where we figuratively and sometimes literally stand on our heads as educators.  We struggle for the perfect mentor text, the just right beginning, the book kiddos will fall in love with instantly.  That will come once the students find their flow.  The key ingredients: time and clarity. So next time and all the times that struggle occurs, let’s ask ourselves, who’s hair is on fire? 

This idea was first revealed to me in Terry Thompson book, The Construction Zone.  For more on this idea, also see Who’s Doing the Work by Burkins and Yaris.

2 thoughts on “The Dilemma of Two O’Clock Writing: Who’s hair is on fire?

  1. Having read your thoughts on student struggles and how teachers might respond (or not), I’m thinking of a book I finished recently: _When_ by Daniel Pink. It looks at the influences of timing in intriguing, often actionable ways. Thus, for some, a sneaky factor in the dilemma of two o’clock writing might be the two o’clock.

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