The Golden Writing Workshop: Yay or Nay?

No matter who you ask, most writing teachers will say that what they need more of in their workshops is exactly what they need more of in life: Just. More. Time.

I personally spend a lot of time thinking about how to find writing time where time doesn’t exist, how to add minutes back into the period, how to make each and every second in the workshop count.

This week I listened to a podcast by the writer/podcaster/traveller Tsh Oxenreider about morning and evening Routines, Golden Hours, and Makers Schedules, and, as whenever I hear something that changes the way I think about my own life, I start thinking about all the ways it might also shift the way I teach. Here’s what happened while I was listening to Tsh and Erin talk (and while the vegetable burned in the oven):

I saw a vision for an alternative workshop flow, one that would incorporate individual students’ routines and golden hours, as well as shift the classroom towards a maker schedule. First, let me take 30 seconds to define these terms:

A morning/evening routine is the series of things that you do at the beginning and/or end of a day, or in our case, a class period to help you “settle in”.

The Golden Hour is your most productive time of day. For some it’s early morning, with the coffee machine whirring in your dark kitchen for one, long before you can hear the pitter-patter of toddler’s feet on the wooden floors upstairs. For others it’s the exact opposite: the after-dinner smell of a lemony-clean kitchen filling your nose as you set up at the dining table for a few hours of hard thinking and writing.

A Maker Schedule is one that features large swaths of time for the hard thinking and creating work essential to a writer/maker/artist’s life…as opposed to a manager schedule (think: meetings, interruptions, announcements, too-short classes, etc.) which is how most professions/jobs/lives are designed.

The vision Tsh gave me for incorporating these elements into a writing workshop can best be illustrated in the visual below:

to our dear matthew (1)

 

A few general thoughts:

  • Research tells us that students’ attention is sharpest at the beginning of a class period, and that it continuously wanes as the period goes on. This places most students’ “Golden Hour” at the beginning of the period, so doesn’t it seem counterproductive to leave the hard thinking and creative work of writing for the end of class? The alternative flow places sacred, uninterrupted writing time at the beginning of the period.
  • The main difference between the two “flows” is the number of minutes allotted to writing time. After a few years of teaching in the workshop approach, I finally figured out a way to give my students 20 minutes of writing time (on most days). But I actually think I can do even better. The alternative flow allows for 25 minutes of uninterrupted, sacred writing time, with an additional 10 minutes for conferring and notebook writing/ play. In other words, it shifts our class period from a manager schedule to a maker schedule.
  • In the alternative flow, the mini-lesson is pre-recorded by the teacher and assigned as homework. The idea of flipping mini-lessons is not new, but I have never done it with any kind of consistency or routine before. I have never made it a core practice in my workshop to the extent that I am freeing-up more writing time on a regular basis. If some of your students’ Golden Hours are at night, then you could give them the option of doing the mini-lesson during class time and writing at night…it’s all about when they are most productive and creative, and it might take some time and some experimentation to figure that out.
  • There is a 5-minute review and Q&A period built into the alternative workshop flow: students can ask questions about the mini-lesson, and the teacher can offer clarification. It’s shorter than a mini-lesson because the learning happened the night before; students start writing a lot sooner in the period.
  • I love the Notebook Time/Conferring combo at the end of the alternative flow period. How many times have I avoided conferring with a student because he was just getting started on writing, and I didn’t want to interrupt his time…but I only had 10 minutes to squeeze in 20 conferences? Since conferring is placed after sacred, interrupted writing time, conferences can be more productive and built around work a student has actually had time to produce.

Thoughts on the Soft Start

The soft start is like your best kind of morning where you get your cup of coffee before your kids (or pets or spouse or roommate) wake up and you have time to greet the day and breathe and collect your thoughts…how much better do you feel on days like these? Now think about what a soft start might do for students.

In her new (FABULOUS!) book Project-Based Writing, Liz Prather writes, “For years, I was a bell-to-bell advocate, and I still feel strongly about engaging students immediately, but now I employ a soft start to each class that signals the shift from the hustle-bustle hall to the serene, creative space necessary for writing.” She uses an online stopwatch to alert students to the three minutes they have to “take care of business” or get themselves set up for writing that day. During this time, Liz gives announcements, takes attendance, posts or announces the conferring schedule for the period, and invites other students to make announcements too. Within three minutes, most if not all, students are “settled in” and ready to write.

How much fun would it be to teach a mini-lesson on “morning/evening” routines for writers? What are some possible ways our students might choose to begin their class period? Brew a cup of coffee? Find a seat by the window? Set up their desk space? Plug in their new Aura Cacia diffuser and spread some citrus oil goodness around the classroom (just kidding about that last one… well, sort of)?

What I love about the soft start is that is gives every student a little bit of time to perform their “morning ritual” in whatever way they want. When the timer goes off, students are ready to enter the creative and energetic space of the classroom and write, write, write.

Final Thoughts

On those rare-but-amazing nights when my son decides to quietly play with his firehouse or train table and let me prepare accidentally burn dinner in complete silence, or with the soft murmurings of a podcast in the background, I am reminded what a gift 30 minutes of uninterrupted, sacred time can be…and even more determined to pay this gift forward to my students. I think the Golden Writing Workshop might be a way to do that.

~ Allison

Are you game for trying this alternative flow? I’d love to see how it might help shift your students’ writing habits and routines and ultimately help put more writing time back into your workshop! Find me on Twitter @allisonmarchett.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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