Writer’s workshop is an approach that puts the focus on the writing process, rather than on the end product. That does not mean that the finished piece of writing is not important; instead, students take responsibility for their development as writers and spend a great deal of time in class on the act of writing. The hope is that with more time on craft, those finished products will be so much better.
The role of the teacher is much different with a workshop approach. You become a guide who coaches your students through the process, rather than the person who talks at the front of the room, giving out and grading assignments. You don’t just wash your hands of it all and let them have at it, though. Instead, you have to do some up front work and planning so you can do a good job of getting your students where you want them to be by the time the semester is over.
Depending on the age of your students, the demands of your curriculum, or your own philosophy, you may not be able to do a full blown workshop, as some writing gurus like Penny Kittle and Nanci Atwell do. You may have to, like me, adapt the approach, using it for only part of the year, or only with certain assignments. That’s ok. We have to do what works for us and often that’s a mix of approaches. Give yourself permission to just go part way, which is exactly what I’m doing.
There are many ways you can run writer’s workshop, but generally, you should aim to include
Last year, I blogged a lot about my adventures with using a reader’s workshop. One of those posts was about balancing reader’s workshop with the whole class novel. I found my rhythm, and it was one that the students not only enjoyed, but also learned from. I saw success and, most importantly, engagement. This year, I’m ready to add writer’s workshop into the mix. I still have certain focused assignments — the argumentative and literary essay — but I’m going to start the year with workshop, for the same reason that they will start with reading workshop: it’s more engaging. If I can hook them into reading and writing in the first few months, then they will be more likely to buy in to — and be successful with — the full class novels and assignments we will do at the end. I like to think of it like this: the first half of the semester is like a team that practices and scrimmages, so they can build their skills to be successful in the big game. The big game for us will be the final assessments they have to do on the curriculum.
OK, let’s get at it. How am I going to get it all done? How will I manage reader’s and writer’s workshop AND my full class stuff? To be honest, I can’t tell you for sure until it’s all over, but here’s my plan:
To the right is the image of my planning from last year. I was doing reader’s workshop for three days, and a more focused look at certain genres on two. Then, in November we switched to full class studies. I’ll still do that this year, but I’m going to do reader’s workshop for three days and writer’s for two. In both cases, students will have lots of choice for what they read and write. I will still do my focus on genres, but this time I will use the mentor texts for both reading and writing, doubling up to save time. For example, I’ll start with non-fiction, as always, book talking non-fiction texts during reader’s workshop, then using the same ones to drill down on certain skills and techniques during writer’s workshop.
Still not sure exactly how to do this? Watch for further posts this week when I will give you more specific plans and examples.
Would you like to get some support as you plan a workshop approach in your secondary classroom? Join my Facebook group, Secondary Reader’s & Writer’s Workshop Support. Send me your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or search this link.