Writer’s workshop was a weird time for me at the beginning of my educational career.
Writing has always been something that I can do, but not something that I like to do. Once I received an A- on a paper and my professor told me that with some effort, I could be a great writer. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’d started and completed the paper the night before it was due!
Early on I had no clue on how to conduct the workshop and I decided that it was just awful. So, I used what was at my disposal. This just happened to be whatever was included in our adopted reading curriculum.
You can guess how horrible that was!
I quickly learned that I needed to do more research on best practices in teaching writing to primary students. As I dived into the research, I found that I’d been doing it all wrong! Here are what I consider to be 3 of my biggest mistakes when it comes to writer’s workshop.
Using Writing Prompts
When I finally got my own classroom, I did what everyone else around me was doing. You guessed it……..a lot of writing prompts. This did not lead to the type of growth I was looking for. When I started off with a prompt, it did not take into account the background knowledge of my students. Some students couldn’t complete the prompt, because they had no frame of reference for the topic!
The biggest problem with heavily relying on writing prompts is that I wasn’t really conducting a writer’s workshop. I didn’t include a mini-lesson, rather I just showed them how I would respond to the prompt. Using a “fill in the blank” style of writing is not the best idea when students are at the beginning of their writing journey. It was easier for me to go along with this method because I didn’t know what to model.
What I didn’t realize is that it also created a lot of student dependence………..on ME! Students were unable to hone in on their voice, cultivate their own writing style or write about what was important to them. I cringe to think about those earlier writing “lessons”. I wasted a lot of time! But when you know better you do better.
When I encouraged them to write about a topic that was meaningful to them, they became more engaged with writing! Nothing builds writing stamina like letting them write about what they are fond of!
Thinking Writing Should Look a Certain Way
As educators, we often have an idea of what we want the outcome of learning to be. My problem was that I had an idea of what the student output should be. I tried too hard to get their version to look like what I visualized. I wanted so much to focus on the writing portion of it. Doing that meant I essentially ignored the students who were still in the pre-writing picture stage.
As I dived into the research, I realized that I had it all wrong. I could target those deficits! But wait, I could also model drawing? My mind was blown at that point. I just thought they could learn that from the art teacher.
Oh the naivete.
I began to learn more about wordless books and including that alone did wonders for our writing time. I can tell you with confidence that there is value in their illustrations. If all they have on their paper is their name and a drawing of their house, they are a writer. I celebrate that just as I do the writing of a student who has 3 complete sentences and has labeled every picture. You can find some of the wordless books that I use here.
When I met students where they were and filled in their deficits, their writing confidence increased and they were excited about writing time!
Not Having Share Time
I know what you’re thinking.
Share time is the ultimate culmination of writer’s workshop, right? Well, I convinced myself that it was alright to skip because we often ran over when it came to writer’s workshop.
I was wrong.
Looking back I realize that I didn’t know how to handle share time. So it was easy to skip it. Every time a student came to share, it ended up being just one more thing to do, and I felt like students didn’t get much out of it. I now know that it was because I didn’t lead it correctly. Share time should be the best part of writer’s workshop because it allows students to hear their writing (or tell about their drawing). When they do this, they get a sense of authorship.
There’s nothing children love more than being heard. Share time allows this to happen!
In the teaching world, there are always new things to learn, new ideas to give. I hope that sharing a few things I did wrong will help you during your writing time!
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