Two Writing Workshop Calls to Action

Hi, friends. We’re back. Our little project is safely in the hands of our publisher, and we are so happy to turn our attention back to the blog.

Ever since NCTE, I have been thinking about the challenging realities so many teachers face in their classroom. Not only poverty, not only discipline issues, not only lack of educational funding, not only unsupportive administrations — but also the challenges posed by the curriculum, by rigid pacing guides, by benchmark testing, not to mention state testing. We talked to teachers at NCTE who said, “This kind of writing instruction is great, but I just don’t know how to make it work.” I attempted to address that question here.

But then, I chatted with a former student this week. She visited to observe one of my classes since she was home between student teaching assignments. She had just spent a semester in an inner-city middle school where the pacing guide dictated which pages of the literature textbook and what forms of writing should be taught each week. When she left, I got curious and found it up online. Here’s what was listed under the heading “Writing Workshop” for the week of December 8, 2014:  “Howto” Explanation, pp.756765

• Analyze a “HowTo” Explanation, pp.761762

• Grammar in Context: UseTransitions, p. 759

• Grammar in Context: Correct Run-On Sentences, p. 763

The “writing workshop” appears sporadically in the pacing guide, and each lasts only one week.  In these conditions, with these strictures,  where does a real workshop exist? How can it?

This is something I want to figure out together. And not stop at the easy answers, saying,  “Oh, you’ll make it work” or “Just choose to prioritize what’s important to you.”  I mean really figure it out — what it would look like in a lesson plan book in the day-to-day. Because there are so many teachers out there that want to use best practices to instruct their students but are utterly and understandably paralyzed by a system that thwarts their best intentions at every side.

There is a gap between teacher education and the inspiration we receive at NCTE and the realities on the ground. Together, can we start to close that gap?

So, here are two little calls to action:

1) Would you take our reader survey? We want to know more about you and the context in which you teach. We want to  know more about what you want to talk about, the challenges and joys in your classrooms. We want this blog to reflect you as much as it reflects us.

2) If you are one of those teachers hemmed in by too-tight curricula, email me your pacing guide or curriculum chart. I would love to see what you are up against. And, if you’d like a sounding board, Allison and I would love to brainstorm with you to see how a real, meaningful, thriving writing workshop can fit into the life of your classroom. Email me at

Thank you for reading, and thank you for sharing with us!


  1. Ah, here is where it gets so interesting! I’m going to take as a given, for now anyway, that the people at the district level who are designing pacing guides are not doing it with the goal of undermining writing workshop. That is, however, what happens when you try to take a foundational approach like writing workshop and turn it into more of an activity that you can do here and there. The anxiety about testing seems all to often to result in a frenzied approach of throwing all sorts of strategies at the wall and hoping some will stick and that students will be ready for “the test.” The result is often teachers who feel frazzled and don’t get to implement any approach very deeply. There is a thread in U.S. education reform that focuses on “teacher-proofing” curriculum. (I know that you and Allison are too young to remember SRA reading cards. I remember working my way through that box of cards as an elementary student.)

    1. Thanks for reading, Sarah. 🙂 I totally agree that when any curriculum is put in place, it is with the best intentions at heart. And not all curriculum is bad. And pacing guides aren’t evil, but it puts teachers in tough spots sometimes. But not insurmountable! I think if enough smart minds join together, we can figure out how could teaching can happen in even the toughest contexts.

  2. “There is a gap between teacher education and the inspiration we receive at NCTE and the realities on the ground.” Agreed. Labels like writing workshop are applied to materials that have little to do with the true essence of the concept. Thanks for leading this conversation.

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