Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Writer's Workshop - The Facilitator Role

If you've read previous entries of mine, you will know that I am a big fan of Writer's Workshop and use it as one of the major components of my writing program.  Every year I try to grow the program and add components to it that will enhance student learning and independence, while teaching the Common Core Standards.

I run my Writer's Workshop in steps, always building on the other.  The first month of school I actually didn't run the Writer's Workshop program at all.  I actually only modeled and gave guided writing lessons.  I really wanted students to see what a good piece of writing looked like, and all the steps required to get to the finished product.  As far as the genre, I started with the opinion and I showed all the components needed in a good opinion text according to the CCSS.  I taught how to choose a topic and develop an opinionated topic sentence.  I showed how to use a graphic organizer to add details and examples to back up the opinion.  I showed how to write a conclusion as well as transitions, citations, and complete sentences and vocabulary.  I modeled this and as a class we practiced this for the first month of school.

The second month of school I was ready to begin Writer's Workshop.   I showed students some of the Writing Process steps (plan and organize and write the rough draft).  I knew that if I bombarded them with the whole writing process that they would get lost and the whole workshop would be lost.  So we took baby steps.   After they finished they signed up to conference with me and I showed them how to revise, edit and rewrite.  I guided them in this process until they could do it independently.  Then I added on.

Today.  Today I added all the parts of Writer's Workshop.  I knew there would be lots of questions about steps, after all, I did assign Planning, Writing, Revising and editing with a rubric, conferencing with a peer, rewriting, and finally publishing.  That's a lot to remember for a fourth grader for the first time.  Also, during the first step of planning, I told them that they had to choose and read one of the articles from Newsela in order to make their opinion and have lots of details and examples to cite.  This was a huge process!

Jonathon.  Jonathon is one of those students who rush to finish their work.  The work is rarely done correctly, but they are done first!  Well, while I am walking around, monitoring, directing, and making sure everyone is on task, I see Jonathon's hand pop up.  When I walk over to see where he is at I see a very short paragraph, obviously copied from text.  He has finished so quickly that I know there is no way he read the provided article, let alone use it for research.  But I bite my tongue.  I didn't say, "NOOOO! This is not what I've been teaching you for the past two months!  Haven't you been listening?!"  No, even though I thought that,  I didn't voice that.   I say nothing and ask him what he thinks his next step is.  Remember, I want to teach for future independence.  He figures out that he needs to go grab a rubric to check his work.  So I look over his shoulder as he reads the rubric, and I got so excited!  He says, "Oh, I don't have a topic sentence."  And he proceeds to write a decent topic sentence on top of his paragraph.  Then he says, "Oh, I don't have any details, let me read this article."  And again, read the article and writes adequate details.  He continues in this manner with the rubric and at the end, he has a decent opinion.

I could not believe it!  Throughout all my years teaching I have always been the teacher who will not let a student struggle.  If they need help, I'm there to assist.  This year I wanted to take the facilitator role.  I wanted to let the students struggle a bit and figure out their own solutions.  I was a bit skeptical of this position as a teacher, after all, I'm there so why don't I share my knowledge?  But the more I take a step back and make my students work their brains and figure out solutions, the more I'm made into a believer that my job as a teacher is to let them struggle.  I'm seeing more and more that their struggles often lead to success.  And even if they do lead to failures, I'm learning that the best learning comes out of failures.

I'm so proud of both Jonathon and myself today.  We both learned powerful lessons.  Jonathon learned how to write an opinion paragraph ON HIS OWN!  I learned that students learn on their own when their teachers step back and empower them.  It was a good day.

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