Introduction to the Writing Workshop
My Personal Introduction to Writing Workshop
When I began teaching thirty years ago, I was an English teacher. The concept and method of Writing Workshop had not yet been brought to light by Lucy Calkins who published The Art of Teaching Writing in 1994. I taught English like I had been taught--you started with sentence variety and worked through all of the parts of speech and finished the year with a big research paper. Interspersed among all the conjunctions and dangling participles was an assortment of essay assignments--narrative, informative, explanatory, persuasive, and the holiest of all essays: The Argumentative Essay.
About eight years into my teaching career, I was introduced to the Writing Workshop as a method of teaching middle school students to write. The concept was revolutionary and a bit scary: the students write every day on any topic and format that they wish, and the teacher presents the writing lessons in small bites called minilessons. The idea of the English teacher giving up that much control was daunting. I must admit that I was not a believer the first few years.
However, after several years of successful and memorable moments in the Writing Workshop watching 7th graders grow as writers and grow to love writing as much as I did, I became a believer. I saw how using a mentor text could illustrate the nuances of sentence variety so much better than learning the four types of sentences. I saw how giving the students to share their writing each day in the Author's Chair created the motivation for writing that had been lagging in previous years. I've never looked back or regretted my decision to embrace the Writing Workshop method as my own.
Writing Workshop 101
Writing Workshop is a method of writing instruction that developed from the early work of Donald Graves, Donald Murray, and Lucy Calkins. The philosophy is that students who write every day for a variety of audiences and purposes are more proficient writers than those taught with more traditional writing instructional methods. The ultimate goal of the Writing Workshop is to create life long writers. The Writing Workshop methodology is based on four guiding principles:
- Students will write about their own lives.
- Students will use a consistent writing process.
- Students will work in authentic ways.
- Students will develop independence as writers.
The Writing Workshop method is designed to be used in all grade levels. Each grade level has specific units of study tailored to meet developmental and curricular needs. Students have a large amount of choice in their topic and style of writing. The teachers acts as a mentor author, modeling writing techniques, and conferring with students as they move through the writing process. Direct writing instruction takes place in the form of a minilesson at the beginning of each workshop and is followed by a minimum of forty-five minutes of active writing time. Each workshop ends with the sharing of student work called the Author's Chair.
Before I came to the Writing Workshop, I hated to write. Now, I kind of look forward to it.— Titus, age 13
Writing Workshop is a method of teaching writing that focuses on the following principles:
Students will write about what interests them (the only exception to this is when students will write on-demand either for testing or practice for testing).
Students will use a consistent writing process (brainstorm, prewrite, draft, revise, edit/proofread, and publish).
Students will write in authentic ways.
Students will use computer software, editing, and publishing tools as often as possible.
Students will use writing as a way to foster independent learning and on-task behaviors.
Students will learn to write using a variety of sentence structures, correct grammar, usage, and mechanics.
Students will learn the basic qualities of good writing (idea development, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions).
The Writing Process
The Writing Workshop Process
As a teacher in the Writing Workshop, I must maintain a consistent writing process and structure in the classroom. Each of my students moves through the writing process at his or her own pace; however, I do require a portfolio submission every two weeks. I also confer with each student at least once every two days. The following is a sample of a Writing Workshop Unit:
- Generate your ideas or topics for writing.
- Collect and brainstorm writing entries.
- Narrow your topic down to a manageable size.
- Plan and outline your draft.
- Write your rough draft.
- Revise your draft for content, craft, and quality.
- Edit your draft for grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling.
- Publish your draft.
- Celebrate your publication.
What Writing Workshop is not?
Writing Workshop is not fluff or just fun and games.
Writing Workshop is not just practicing for the writing test.
Writing Workshop is not just for those who excel in language arts.
- Writing Workshop is not just English Language Arts.
What is expected from the Writing Workshop teacher?
Writing Workshop teachers must plan writing genre projects far in advance of the due dates.
Writing Workshop teachers must write with and for the students.
Writing Workshop teachers must believe that writing makes a man wiser and more viable as a student and employee.
Writing Workshop teachers must understand the basics of good writing.
Writing Workshop teachers must understand the qualities of good writing.
Writing Workshop teachers must spend a good portion of their time reading students’ published pieces.
Writing Workshop teachers must be familiar with the Tennessee Writing Rubric.
Writing Workshop teachers must have a basic understanding of writing software.
What is expected of the student in Writing Workshop?
- Students must come to class prepared to write.
- Students must come to class prepared to read.
- Students must come to class with an open mind.
- Students must come to class with a willingness to learn better writing techniques.
- Students must be able to sit down and read and/or write for extended periods of time.
It is up to the teacher to develop the sense of community and the environment where student writers can flourish. Teachers need to use the first few days of school to make sure that students understand the background and the expectations in the classroom. The teacher must teach these expectations at the beginning of the school year just like she would any other lesson.