Like many high school students, I made my college decision during the spring of my senior year, but I think I reached 90% certainty about which college I would attend at least one year before then, when I attended at shadow day at my future alma mater, St. Norbert College. I followed a sophomore around campus, attended two of her education classes, and enjoyed lunch with her and her friends (there was a soft serve machine? In the cafeteria? Just there? To use at ANY TIME??). Those few hours I spent experiencing the life of a Green Knight made me feel at home, and they made me SO EXCITED about the learning I would be doing.
One of the best moments of the day was when I answered a question a professor’s question about a philosopher I had just studied in my Honors Humanities class. When I joined the learning, I felt like a part of the community. And so when I had to send my deposit and make my college decision, I knew I wanted to be where I already felt I belonged.
Both of the schools I’ve worked at host shadow days like the one I attended at St. Norbert. Because I had such a positive shadow experience and recognize the value of offering potential students an engaging, welcoming, and true-to-life visit, I want to make the most of a visitor’s time in my classroom, but in the hubbub of the (always) busy school week, I sometimes regard the visit as a burden, a time when I feel like I have to be “on” or have something extra-special planned. And if our admission team tries to schedule visitors during what I know will be writing workshop time, I often turn them down, afraid that visitors will get bored just watching students write.
Except for this week. I accepted visitors, not realizing that my freshmen would still be in the thick of composing playlists for characters and events in The Odyssey.
What was I going to do with visitors? Officiate a thumb-wrestling competition? Hand them a book from the classroom library and tell them to read?
Then, I remembered Rebekah’s fantastic post about workshop communication from last fall. In her post, Rebekah spoke about offering adult visitors like administrators and colleagues a list of Reading/Writing Workshop “look-fors” and suggestions for conferring with students. What if I turned shadow students into fresh eyes and ears for conferences and peer reviews?
This week, I’ve been conferring with students and remembering how good that makes us both feel about their writing, and I’ve been “witnessing” Noah’s reflection on listening in his Twitterfeed.
My 2020 resolution for Reading Writing Workshop 9 is to make talking a more important part of our writing process, and today’s visitors can help us put more talk into our practice right now!
With Rebekah’s documents as my models, I created the handout linked here. In class, I invited visiting students to find a friendly face and fill out a conference questionnaire form. Next week, I will hand those forms back to writers so that they can reflect and revise with their conference data to guide them. I copied a rubric to the back of the questionnaire for self-assessment, something I also want to make a bigger part of our practice this year.
As our visitors filed in, I gathered them together and shared their special instructions: find two writers and interview each with the Visiting Writer Conference Form. I encouraged them to partner up if they felt shy, and I was impressed by those who smiled and dove into this task. It was good to hear students talking about their writing; it was better to be reminded what nice people my ninth graders can be. Their smiles were warm, their tone was inviting, and they returned the visitors’ curiosity, asking questions about their current schools and interests. For one of those “last-minute-Hail-Mary-passes” kind of days, it was a really good one.
You may not have a class that students outside of your school community visit, but maybe there are students trying to decide which class they should take next year. Invite some new voices and writers into your classroom to conduct guest conferences. You’ll show all of the writers in the room that their voices matter to you, and, even better, you’ll create an opportunity for them to show how much they matter to each other.
Have any strategies for involving shadow students in your writing workshop classes? Enjoyed any breakthrough last-minute lesson plans? I’d love to hear about your eureka moments in the comments below or on Twitter @MsJochman.
At Moving Writers, we love sharing our materials with you, and we work hard to ensure we are posting high-quality work that is both innovative and practical. Please help us continue to make this possible by refraining from selling our intellectual property or presenting it as your own. Thanks!