Summer Reading for Writing Teachers: Teaching Writers to Reflect

Summer Reading

Not every administrator “gets” writing workshop (she says laughing at the biggest understatement ever). But a couple years ago, one of my admins, who didn’t really “get” writing workshop, complimented our program saying, “Well, I’ll tell you this. These are the most reflective students we have ever had. They can write reflectively for pages!”

While that’s not the primary goal of writing workshop, reflection is a critical component. Writers reflect when they find strategic places to try new techniques, when they choose to ask for a writing conference, when they revise, when they sit back and look at that best draft.

Screen Shot 2019-04-24 at 5.33.37 PMBut reflection, like all things, happens successfully because of explicit instruction and many opportunities to practice. In Teaching Writers to Reflect by Anne Elrod Whitney, Colleen McCracken, and Deana Washell helps teachers with the “explicit instruction” part by sharing a three-step method for teaching students to become increasingly reflective: remember, describe, act.

Now, this book is listed for grades 2-5, but do not be deceived! This reflection protocol is perfectly adaptable to grow with middle and high school writers!

Teaching Writers to Reflect spends a hefty chapter detailing each step in the reflection protocol, explaining it in student-friendly language, and suggesting handfuls of activities and experiences to help students practice.

Here’s one of my favorites ideas to give you a taste:

In the chapters “Writers Remember”, Whitney, McCracken, and Washell suggest using photographs to elicit past writing experiences. And it’s so smart! And so simple!

While writers are at work, the teacher moves around the room snapping photos! Then, during the “sharing” portion of the workshop, the teacher projects the images. Students pictured narrate what they were doing when the photo was taken, and then the whole group reflects on what they notice, on how their experience mirrors or differs from the pictured experience, etc.

Of course, after this reflection, students can describe what they’ve noticed and act!

You can extend this by allowing students to take pictures themselves during the writing process, using video, or extending the remembering across an entire writing workshop!

But wait! There’s more! Like so many fantastic professional books, there’s also plenty in this for the teacher, too, as the authors suggest reflection practices for us as well! (Because to teach writing, you’ve got to write. Ergo, to teach reflection, you’ve got to reflect!)

I’ve been trying it! One idea for teacher reflection the authors share is to simply keep a reflection page handy throughout your day — jotting down the random noticings that flit through our teacher brains. Things like “Robbie is having a good day today! ” and “Next time, start with a flash draft” and “Think about a How-To unit!” I’ve been doing this for a month or so now, and I’ve found it incredibly helpful.

It helps me remember valuable observations that I would otherwise forget, record details I can use later, and look for patterns across time!

Teaching Writers to Reflect is a slim volume that has already had a tangible impact on my teaching! This is a definite must-read  — perfect for summer PLCs and reading poolside!


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