Two weeks ago, I invited writing teachers far and wide to share their biggest workshop dilemmas with me!
Okay, if I’m being honest, I asked a bunch of people who recently read Make Writing to share their biggest workshop dilemmas with me. BUT! They did not disappoint! I also think that their responses will leave some of you nodding your weary heads.
“My mini-lessons go too long,” many told me.
“My feedback is mess,” others confessed.
“Everyone writes at a different pace,” I heard again and again.
“My curriculum is overloaded, and I don’t know how to prune it,” several people revealed.
“I’m not sure how to help writers create things for real audiences,” others said.
These are common workshop dilemmas, and over the years, I’ve found solutions in an unexpected place: our state learning standards.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Standards provided a simple solution for the biggest dilemmas facing the writing workshop teachers that I support.
I know, I know, I know.
I’m the #MakeWriting lady. I am all about blocks and cardboard and LEGO and clay. And student voice and choice. And creativity. And the world of Reggio Emilia. And I don’t like grades or awards or evaluation. And I think we over test. And I have a LABRADOR RETRIEVER for crying out loud. I’m a writer who likes to garden and spend time with a few people who are heavily tattooed and my daughter goes to art school and I know, I know—there are SO many other things about me that suggest that I can’t mean this thing I’m saying about standards.
I simply can’t.
But I totally mean it.
I know you want to ask me: How can this be, Angela?
Well, I find that standards help us resolve all of those problems by inspiring us to teach and write bit by bit, with laser-like focus and patience and purposeful intention. Especially if we know how to break standards into learning targets that actually mean something to kids.
As it turns out, those learning targets serve teachers as well as they serve students. This is what experience has taught me:
- When we keep our targets tight and manageable, our mini-lessons remain mini. When we’re going long, the target is likely too big.
- Providing targeted, over-the-shoulder feedback on the daily allows us to support every writer in the room in a single workshop session. When our feedback aligns to the learning target we taught and writers revise in response to that feedback only, the quality of their work improves as well. So does their confidence, in my experience.
- Targets help us prune the units we’ve designed ourselves and the pre-fabricated plans we’ve purchased, too. When we know what we must do and we distinguish it from what we may do, we’re able to create white space within our curriculum. Then, we can invite our students to fill it.
- Learning targets keep an entire classroom full of writers engaged and on pace, which helps teachers anticipate, plan, and execute better instruction. Some writers may need more time to construct a hook for their fictional narratives. Others may announce that they are finished rather quickly. When we remind writers of the learning target and invite them to experiment with it using a variety of diverse approaches, they begin to hone their craft. They learn that writers are never “done.” Those who have written a beautiful beginning can explore varied ways to write that hook and tinker with all of them before choosing just one. This builds better writers and writing.
- Finally, when we are clear about our learning targets and assess them bit by bit throughout a unit, writers can translate them through different mediums and modalities. Stories become podcasts. Arguments become public service announcements. Informational texts become explainer videos. Kids write real things for real audiences. They become influential in the world.
Last week, I tackled each of those discoveries one bullet point at a time in my #FiveMinuteFix video series.
If you caught them as I dropped them on social media each weekday morning, I’d love to know your thoughts, and I hope you’ll share your own experiences, too. My way isn’t the highway, all. We’re in this together, and I learn much from you, too. If you didn’t see the videos during the week and you’d like to catch up, you’ll find all of them right here.
Tell me how the sound quality is. Tell me which filters I should be using instead. I just figured out how to change my thumbnails. I have much more to learn, and I’d love your feedback and advice.
Next week, I’ll be vlogging about another issue teachers often put in front of me: the fact that most writers struggle to edit their own work well, never mind anyone else’s. Join me on Facebook if you want to follow the conversation day by day.