Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Writer's Workshop

I began student teaching 25 years ago.  Surprisingly, if you look at my teaching style today and back then, not a lot has changed.  I'm not saying that I haven't evolved as a teacher, nothing is farther from the truth, but there are a great many similarities.  If you were to take a bird's eye view of my room from both eras, and you didn't look very closely, besides the style of dress and hair, and let's not mention age, there would be very few differences.

Let's look at my writing program.  During student teaching, my master taught me two strategies.  In her class she explicitly modeled the writing process and gave guided writing practice when she assigned similar writing assignments and monitored the students by being available and  walking the room.  The second strategy she insisted on was Writer's Workshop.  Through this program she was able to give students independent practice by allowing them to follow the model she initially taught in the modeled direct instruction lesson while differentiating her instruction by conferencing with the students individually.

When I opened my own class in 1996, I also used these to strategies to instruct writing.   I found success in both reading and writing due to this type of instruction, and I found the students to really enjoy themselves and be engaged during these lessons.  Well, eventually as the years went by, this writing style fell out of favor with the powers that may be.  My world of education began cycling through the policies and politics of the state as I taught through the phonics era, the balanced reading era, and probably many other educational time periods that I don't even remember.   The one time period I do remember is the scripted era.    The writing program I began with in college was slowly chiseled away by all the different programs that were "proven" to produce educated adults, but the final nail  came from the scripted programs.  There was no way to promote independent thinking and writing through Writer's Workshop when all lessons were to be read from a book at a specific point of time in the day determined by your boss, or most likely her boss.

Well, I'm happy to say that Writer's Workshop instruction has come back into educational style full circle.  I am now fully encouraged to provide students time and most importantly allow the creativity to flow during writing sessions.  My Writer's Workshop program is back full steam.  But I will proudly say, that if you were to go closer than a bird's eye view, you would see a very different Writer's Workshop program.  I now teach completely to the Common Core Standards when I model that ideal lesson that I want students to learn.  Now I don't just say, "Let's write a great story!"  I now am very deliberate with the vocabulary I utilize to teach a lesson.  Now I may say something like, "Let's begin to write a great narration that introduces a character, follows with a climaxing middle,  and ends with a resolution."   I would also lay out my expectations such as the story must have some dialogue, use appropriate transitions, and use concrete vocabulary to explain yourself.   I also wouldn't just teach how to write narratives, but all genres  mandated by Common Core Standards including opinions and expository text.

If you listened in to my student teacher conferences you would see a big difference also.   Instead of telling the students how to write a perfect paper so it is easily published and wall perfect,  our conferences are student driven.  I don't revise the student's work for them, but am there only as a guide, as a facilitator.  When a student comes to my conference table, they tell me what they want to work on.  They know where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and sometimes they want a review lesson and sometimes they want to take their writing a step further with a challenge lesson.  It is their choice, and being their choice,  they are so much more engaged!  They come to my conference table excited to revise and edit with me.  They can't wait for their turn and they can't wait to return back to their desk to try and apply their newfound knowledge.  It's wonderful to see!

The last difference you would see between 1995 and now is the student conversations.  The old--fashioned Writer's Workshop did not call for peer collaboration.  Today, probably at least a fourth of the time spend during Writer's Workshop is spent sharing and discussing ideas and asking for feedback and help.  I have added another step in the process where students take their rough drafts to a peer to share positive and corrective feedback.  They also work on a rubric together to analyze whether their writing piece is addressing all the Common Core Standards correctly.  Students also look to challenge themselves and push  their abilities to the fullest.

So yes, my Writer's Workshop has evolved and changed with the times.  During the time of Whole Language it was fully welcomed into my class. During the Phonics and Balanced Literacy times, it was utilized but by only parts and pieces.  Then it was completely scratched unfortunately during the Scripted Periods, but now its back and running full force with my students and me leading the way.  This program I love is so very different from the way I taught it when I was a first year teacher and that is a very good thing.  It shows that it is strong enough to last through the winds of change thrown about by the "educational experts", and that means that so am I.   Because I have never given up, because I have looked to the positive side and learned from whatever educational program I was thrown, I have become a much better teacher.  My Writer's Workshop program is 100 times more powerful than it was 25 years ago when I was a spring chick.  We both have adapted, evolved, and become better!

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