This morning, we kicked off the first week of the WNY Young Writers’ Summer Studio, a new writing camp for middle school students, which I’m holding on the grounds of Daemen College in Amherst. I’ve been eager to write with kids again, and today’s session was a whole lot of fun. It was also unique in that I found myself in the position of being observed for the first time in many years. Teachers have been invited to attend these sessions as well, and what began with an informal request to visit the sessions and learn more about workshop led to the creation of a small community of teachers who are interested in studying and improving how they teach and assess writing throughout the year. I’m one of those teachers.
Stacy VanEtten spent the morning scripting my questions as I posed them to the writers in our studio. I asked her to do this because I have never been satisfied with the quality of the discussions I lead, and I know that there is much that could be improved in how I pose questions. The evidence that Stacy provided me at the end of the session validated what I already knew: I’m not scaffolding the questions that I ask well enough. Many of the questions that I asked were either far too difficult for kids to respond to cold or so simple that it felt as if I were spoon feeding them my own agenda (seriously: a full sixty percent of the questions I asked began with the word “what”). How we ask questions in a way that will challenge kids to think without overwhelming them?
I’m going to do a lot more with think/pair/share and cooperative learning tomorrow. I know that I need to give them significantly more time to think before expecting a response from them, and perhaps the safety of a partnership will encourage them a bit more as well.