A question I hear again and again is that while writing workshop seems great for eager writers and high-achieving students, but can it really work for students who aren’t natural writers?
When I get this question, I emphatically say, “YES! Writing workshop helps every writer take their work to the next level because it is responsive, individualized teaching.” I show samples of work by students who are not all-star writers but are making strides and demonstrating growth over the course of the year.
I typically answer the question over the course of a few minutes in a professional development session, but Melanie Meehan has written a whole book affirming that, indeed, every child can write. Melanie’s new book Every Child Can Write takes us into the rhythms and routines of a writing workshop focused on “striving writers”.
The kind of teaching that benefits striving writers benefits all writers, and Melanie covers a lot of ground in this book: setting up the physical space of a writer’s workshop to work for all students, using paper choice to help writers move forward, incorporating technology into workshop in ways that benefit both students and teachers, and scaffolding writing in new ways.
Throughout the book, Melanie has provided oodles of practical resources, and this is one of my favorite parts! So many professional books share smart thinking, but not every professional book provides me with resources I can use with my students right away. In this book, you’ll find student handouts, teacher charts for organizing the workshop, and writing lessons you can use immediately.
While this book is aimed at grades 2-5, you guys know that many of my very favorite teaching ideas for big kids come from the workshops of little kids. I read this book about a month ago, and I am still thinking about it. Here are some of the ideas I’ve already used or am still mulling over:
There are lots of different kinds of charts in a writing workshop, and I should be using more of them.
“Anchor charts” that explain how to do a task have been a mainstay of my middle and high school workshops for years. But Melanie really made me think about broadening the way I use charts to include strategy charts (choices for a skill), inquiry charts (a question with possible answers or ideas), Who Tried It? charts to create a visualization of how writers in the room are trying on different skills, and, my favorite, tallying attempt charts (charts where students tally their attempts at using different strategies in their writing). I want to use more of these so that students can access information from mini-lessons in different ways and also help create some of the visuals we use in the classroom! Melanie includes some great examples of these different charts in the book!
I don’t need to create learning progressions from scratch! Use your standards!
Y’all, this might not be new to you, but the elegant simplicity of it blew my mind. I have been creating learning progressions for the last few years (since Kate Roberts’ and Maggie Beattie Roberts’ DIY Literacy taught me how!) … but I’ve been creating them out of my own brain. Out of thin air. It never occured to me to visit my state’s standards or school’s curriculum, and use three grade level’s description of a skill to help me write it!
I made this (very quick) learning progression for writing claims by quickly copying-and-pasting three different levels of the same Common Core standard:
More than in my actual instruction (where I could probably make the progression slightly more specific to my students’ needs in the moment), I think this kind of standards-based progression can really help me in conversations with parents and colleagues about where a student’s writing currently lives and how it’s progressing.
As a bonus, Melanie teaches us how we can make these learning progressions on Google Forms so that our conferring notes can be digital (and easily-sharable with colleagues!).
Bring students into the writing checklist-creation process!
Students can become a part of the process of making writing checklists to use as a scaffold as they write. If you aren’t familiar with checklists (an instructional strategy more common in elementary school writing), Melanie gives lots of amazing information and examples. I don’t use checklists often (though I would like to!), but I think I will be co-creating checklists in the future — adding indicators of success myself and then allowing students to also add their own indicators of writing success!
Use shared writing as part of the I go- we go – you go cycle.
Shared writing can be used in middle and high school, too. Similar to roundtable writing, shared writing in the upper grades can provide students with support to get-going on a piece of communal writing before they have to dive into their own piece.
My 8th graders are doing this right now! Before we begin writing bigger pieces of individual analysis later this school year, students are writing a piece of roundtable analysis on Hamilton (our whole-class text).
Here are the mentor texts we’re using:
Students are working in groups to create their own analytical writing topic and then divide it four ways so that each writer has a unique thesis to prove. I think this will set them up wonderfully to do a larger piece of analytical writing on their own in the coming months.
Every Child Can Write is the kind of book where I underlined something on every page — something to make my workshop run more smoothly, something to connect the dots of student learning in more efficient ways, something to boost every writers’ confidence. It gave me food for thought and practical resources, and I will pull it off my shelf more than once in this second semester!
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