The Writing Workshop Ch. 11 and 12

I have been wondering this whole time “how do I teach whole-class lessons when everyone is writing about a different topic?” (pg. 121). Now I understand that we need to be teaching students writing concepts they can use at any time, not how to write about specific topics. I liked the kitchen example. Students can write using their five senses to describe any place, not just a kitchen. As long as the students are using their five senses to write descriptively, why does it matter what place they choose to write about? While I understand Ray’s idea that not every focus lesson should have a direct activity for the students to do, I am worried that younger students need some guidance. I do not thing kindergartners and first graders will always be able to come up with something to write about on their own. 

Focus lessons make more sense to me now that I know they should fall under a focused unit of study. They should not just be random. I was interested to look at the lower and upper grades sample year-long plans. I have seen part of an author study in my practicum and found it very interesting. The students studied Kevin Henkes. I am not sure how I would teach students what writers need to gather from the world, how to read texts like writers, or who we are as writers. I would like to learn more about these issues myself. 

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The Writing Workshop Ch. 14 and 15

I am nervous about the conferring part of the writing workshop. I am not sure I know enough about writing to give advice. I definitely need to extend my “fistful of knowledge.” I appreciate Ray’s specific directions on how long the conference should last and what exactly should happen during the conference. I think each of the four components are important. I especially think it is important to make a record of the conference so teachers can make sure they are giving each student an equal amount of conference time and see what the students are consistently struggling with.  Accordingly, if many students in the class are having one issue, then the teacher may need to address this issue in a focus lesson. I also liked how Ray stressed that conferencing is not helping students, it is participating in the writing process with them.  

I was a little surprised to read “talk is essential to the healthy maintenance of any writing workshop (pg. 173).” I thought the writing workshop was mainly focused on the independent writing time, in which writers need to be focused on their work.  However, I quickly realized how important talking is in the writing workshop. Students need to hear feedback on their writing and be able to learn from their peers. I agree that it is “important to read aloud what you write (pg. 176).” I think this process allows you to hear how what you wrote actually sounds and think about its meaning. I liked the four ways Ray suggests sharing what happens in the writing workshop. I especially like the student-as-teacher share. I think labeling students as the “expert” of the day is good for their writer’s identity and self-confidence. It also encourages peers to look at each other as resources. I think sharing is imperative to a successful writing workshop. 

 

The Writing Workshop Chapters 9 and 13

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I laughed out loud when I read “since so few of us had a history of good writing instruction in school, we don’t have a lot to draw on when we start to think about what our teaching will look like in the writing workshop” (pg.93). This statement is so true. I do not love writing because it was not something I did regularly in school. I liked all of the suggested structures and routines for the writing workshop, but my favorite was the bulletin board displaying students’ work. I think it is imperative to show students that you value you their writing, and give them the opportunity to present a piece of work they are especially proud of. It feels great to have your work displayed on the wall. It also encourages you to do the best work you can. I like that Ray suggests having writing of former students available for consulting during writing workshop. I think looking at pieces that children their age have written is a great idea. I have not thought about using inquiry before, but I guess it is similar to a research paper. The students have to ask questions and then find the answers to write about. I think children would really be interested in this. They love to be investigators and to know all the answers. I also like the homework Ray suggested. Instead of having students do worksheets, they should be gathering ideas for their writing. I think writing would have been much easier for me if I had a notebook full of ideas or thoughts. 

After reading the chapter on focus lessons, I am still a little confused as to what they are. I understand they are supposed to be very quick (10 minutes max) and both tell and show. But I still have a lot of questions. Is it appropriate to read a whole book? Is it okay to ask them to try something based off the book or are they always supposed to have options? Does the focus lesson need to relate to what the majority of students are working on or can they be anything related to writing (if all the students are working on different things this may be difficult)? I felt like the chapter did not really answer these questions so I look forward to discussing focus lessons in class and learning more about them. 

I liked the comparison of mentor texts to a worn out pair of jeans in the Dorfman and Cappelli book. Mentor texts should be something you can continually look back to and learn from. Mentor texts are meant to teach students how to be good writers. But who decides that a book is an appropriate mentor text (has good writing)? I also thought it is good to know that nonfiction pieces can be used as mentor texts as well, as Fletcher and Portalupi discuss in their book. Students will need to know how to write nonfiction so good mentor texts may help them. I think the writingfix.com website is a great resource to use for mentor texts and focus lessons! I enjoyed looking at some examples. 

The Writing Workshop Ch. 5-8

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At first I had no idea where Ray was going with her cafeteria metaphor, but then it all made sense. The writing workshop should be as consistent as lunch. No student or teacher would ever want to miss lunch. Wouldn’t it be great if teachers and students had the same feeling about the writing workshop? I thought Ray made a great point when she said students need practice writing just like they need nourishment at lunch. I really got the impression that a balance of time is imperative and the writing workshop is not effective if students do not have enough independent writing time. I appreciated the advice to spend at least as much time on independent writing as the focus lesson and sharing combined. I will certainly remember and use this rule of thumb in my future classroom. 

I definitely think independent writing is the scariest part of the writing workshop. How do you know if your students are on task? How do you give your students expectations without squashing their freedom? I like the worksheet reminders that Ray gave her students. I know those would be helpful for me as a writer because I always have a hard time getting started. I think it is interesting that Ray suggests reading to support writing. I am not sure how I feel about this. Whenever I am given an example I tend to not be able to think of anything else. However, I do think it would be beneficial to read about  certain subjects before writing about them. Also, I understand that students need time to think, but how long should we allow our students to stare into space? 

I found all the advice about managing the writing workshop very helpful. I interpreted that a teacher should be almost like a peer during the writing workshop but still remain in control. I think the students seeing their teacher work will inspire and encourage them to work. I also liked Ray’s suggestion of warning students that individual writing time is almost over by dimming the lights or having a messenger. I always felt stressed when my teacher suddenly yelled “stop.” I was not able to finish my thought and was usually lost when I returned to my work the next day. 

The whole time I was reading I could not help but think about how chaotic the classroom would be. When every student is working on something different, it is hard to keep track of everyone. I was worried that the writing workshop may turn into a free for all. Ray’s honesty in chapter eight made me feel better and realize that the writing workshop is meant to have a slightly out-of-hand feeling. I think it is worth the difficult process of trying to run a productive writing workshop to receive the reward of genuine and meaningful writing from your students. 

 

The Writing Workshop Ch. 1-4

When I was in school all of my teachers emphasized the writing process, not a writing workshop. I am not familiar with a writing workshop, but I like how Ray says “each student is able to bring his or her personal interests to the workshop and explore those interests through writing (pg.3).” I think it is really important to incorporate students’ interests in learning. I did not like writing as a child because we were always forced to write about really boring prompts. I also like how Ray said “her most important goal is that her students write with purpose and intention first – to enrich their lives in significant ways – and that out of this they learn to write well (pg. 3).” I always hated writing just to write in school. Nothing I ever wrote had any meaning because we were never given any freedom. I think students would enjoy writing more if the topics were meaningful to them. I was shocked that Ray suggested students need thirty-five to forty-five minutes to write each day. I did not write everyday in elementary school, much less for that long of a period. Do students actually have that much time in classrooms today? Likewise, I was surprised Ray suggested that talking is important for writers. Writing for me was always quiet. We were not allowed to ask others for ideas. I like the idea of talking about your writing because it gives you a chance to see if the readers understand  what you, as the writer, are trying to convey. 

When I was in elementary school writing was not a separate curriculum, it simply fell under the category of Language Arts. I agree with Ray’s statement “rather than writing across the curriculum, I believe we need writing as a curriculum if we hope for our students to learn to write well (pg. 22).” The writing that takes place in math, science and social studies is very different than composition writing. I think the majority of writing in schools is writing to live. Students write notes, fill in worksheets, work out math problems, and sometimes answer essay questions. Students do not have a lot of time to write creatively, or to tell a story. Reading and writing are necessary to be successful in school, so why then have they not always had their own curriculum? Sometimes I think incorporating writing in other subjects would be more efficient and kill two birds with one stone. However Ray’s statement “writing is something you do, not something you know. Students need time to just write so they can gain experience as writers” made me realize writing cannot be combined with other subjects or pushed to the side (pg. 25). Composition writing needs to play a prominent role in the classroom. 

What does it mean to be a writer? I think that is an excellent question. I have always thought of “writers” as professional authors who publish best selling books, not elementary school students. I am still not sure what being a “writer” means. Does it simply meaning you write a lot? Or does it mean people are willing to pay for your words? I am also not sure why the writing workshop encourages students to write about their interests, but tells them to keep in mind the audience. “For one, it means that we need to teach students to ‘read’ and audience and find out how high the stakes are for the writing to be ‘right’,” is confusing to me because I thought writing was about personal growth not pleasing others (pg. 38). 

The whole time I was reading I found myself wondering “do teachers of writing need to be writers themselves? (pg.47)” I do not really consider myself a writer which concerns me. It makes perfect sense that “the tone of the teaching in a room where the students know their teacher is a writer will always be different that the tone in rooms where the students know their teachers as people who ask them to do something that they don’t actually do themselves (pg. 47).” I know I would never take a tennis lesson from someone who does not play tennis, just like Sara would not take a dance lesson from someone who does not dance. This reading has made me realize how important it is that I become a writer myself so that I can set the tone in my future classroom. I felt much better after reading ” it is not at all necessary that they see us as great writers (pg. 47).”