Writing Workshop Workflow: A System for Tracking Student Progress in Workshop

In the last three years I have moved from a paper system to an almost exclusively digital system in writing workshop. Finding a good rhythm in a digital environment requires just as much thought as in a paper environment. After a lot of experimentation, I think I’ve landed on a workflow that satisfies my student writers and me. This system has features that

  • allow students to receive feedback in a timely manner
  • help me keep a clear record of student submissions
  • show when I have put feedback on a student’s draft
  • give me immediate access to student writing, without having to shuffle through lots of folders and subfolders
  • put feedback on student work in the order in which it was received

Read on to find out more about this system!

The system has two main components: tracking student progress during workshop, and collecting writing for feedback.

Tracking Student Progress During Workshop

At the beginning of the year, I create a conference binder with three sections:

  1. Writing/Reading Surveys — distributed at the beginning of the year
  2. Writing Study Cover Sheets — a roster for each class, with the dates of the workshop running along the top
  3. Conference Summary for each student — a record of every conference I’ve had with each student throughout the year

Writing Study Cover Sheets

Writing Study Cover Sheet

Every class, after the mini-lesson, I do a status of the class — I call out the name of each student and ask them to verbalize where they are in their process and their goal for the day. I use the following key to track their responses:

Key for coding student progress during workshop:

BS/WP = brainstorming or writing off the page

D = drafting

R = revising

P = ready for publication

FB = preparing for feedback

PW = working with a partner

QC = in need of a quick conference

C = in need of a more in depth conference

T = searching for a topic

MT = working with mentor texts for guidance or inspiration

R = researching

If they tell me they are using a specific mini-lesson during drafting or revision, I write the name of the mini-lesson down instead of the generic code.

This cover sheet shows me a bird’s eye view of what is happening on any given day in each class. I usually highlight the boxes where conferences have occurred; it’s easier to identify which students I have not made enough contact with, which helps me prioritize my conferences for the next day.

Conference Summary for Each Student

The third section contains a conference summary for each student in alphabetical order by last name. This sheet contains shorthand from all the conferences I have with a student throughout the year. It has spaces for a brief summary, a teaching point, and a record of follow-up.

Collecting Student Writing for Whole-Piece Feedback

I give feedback on writing every day through conferences. Additionally, I collect writing and give whole-piece feedback once per study about a week before the students’ final drafts are due.

Real writers work with deadlines, so I feel strongly about imposing deadlines on mine. However, I offer a flexible deadline in that students are allowed to submit their drafts prior to the deadline if they are ready for feedback.

Students are required to meet three criteria outlined here before submitting their drafts for feedback. When they have met these three requirements, they sign their name on a clipboard at the front of the room.

I take this clipboard home with me every night and put feedback on their work. Allowing students to turn in drafts early helps me manage the workload and meets students where they are. There can’t be anything worse than waiting for a deadline to roll around when you want feedback now.

Then, when the whole-class deadline rolls around, the rest of the students must meet the same criteria. Instead of signing the clipboard, however, all students complete a time-stamped digital form, which collects the titles and links of their work and keeps them in an easy-to-navigate spreadsheet that I can move through at my own pace.

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 10.27.27 AM

The responses come to me in an easy-to-read format:

Submission Form

When students submit their work early through the clipboard, I navigate the subfolder rabbit hole of my Google Drive and search for their work that way. But when students submit their drafts through the digital form, I ask them to provide links to each document so their writing is only a click away.

The time-stamp allows me to see which students met the deadline, and which may have submitted their work late, making the submission of digital work very concrete.

Furthermore, I add a column for myself to comment when I have finished putting feedback on a student’s paper. I give feedback in the order in which the writing was submitted; this incentivizes students to submit their work early!
I find it helpful to share classroom systems with one another. What does your workflow look like? How do you collect writing for feedback? What processes help your workshop go ‘round? Please tweet us @allisonmarchett @rebekahodell1 or comment in the space below!


  1. Allison,
    What are the criteria your students must meet? It appears the linked documents are gone.

    1. Argh, this is such a bummer. When I left my last school, all of the Google docs saved under that school’s email were deleted, so those links don’t work now! Here is the criteria: 1) Did you read this pieces out loud forwards and backwards? 2) Did you check the draft against your Personal Editing Sheet (let me know if you want more information about this)? 3) Did you leave meaningful comments to help me focus my feedback? Thanks, Karen!

  2. Very helpful post! What do the students who have submitted their drafts before the deadline do? Do they start on another writing piece? Thanks!

    1. Hi there! When the students submit drafts early, I comment on them that night and return papers the next day so they have something to work on immediately. Because the early birds submit drafts on a rolling basis, I usually only have a paper or two to look at each night. Students who submit their best drafts/final copies before the final deadline can work on “back-up writing” (idea borrowed from Nancie Atwell). Thanks for your interest! Allison

  3. As I plan for next year, I feel so lucky to have found this post. I wonder if you are still using this same workflow? This past year, I used Google Classroom for students to turn in work, but I found it lacking in some regards, especially when it comes to creating a digital portfolio of student work.

    Do you use this system instead of Google Classroom? It seems like the paper system, spreadsheet, and Google Forms integration offers you some more flexibility in designing the writing workshop experience that you particularly want. Could you provide some more information about your decision not to use Classroom? I’m working in a school where students are very accustomed to Classroom, but I’m always looking for more ways to make the workshop work.

      1. Hi Allison! I have finally logged back in to my school email account and I saw your wonderful response. Thank you!

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