TRT Podcast#29: How to meet every writer’s needs during writing workshop
Writing workshop is the best way to teach writing across the grades. But it’s not without its challenges! How can you meet every writer’s needs?
- Learn how to confer with more students (in the limited time that you have)
- Discover a quick end-of-the-week routine that will help you stay up-to-date on your writers’ progress
- Learn my favorite books and resources that will help you become an incredible writing teacher
Listen to the episode here
Full episode transcript
Today's episode marks the end of our eight-week series all about teaching writing. We've talked about what to do about spelling during Writing Workshop, how to help students revise and edit, and what to do when kids won't even get started. We even talked about how to teach writing virtually.
We're finishing off the series today with episode 29, how to meet every writer's needs during Writing Workshop. I'm going to give you five strategies that will help you do just that.
I firmly believe that Writing Workshop is the BEST approach to teach writing in all grade levels from kindergarten and up. Of course, it's not without its challenges and one of those is meeting the needs of every writer. Of course, that's the same challenge we face in everything we teach. How do we help our students who are struggling, our students who are advanced, and our students who are right in the middle all at the SAME time? Today, I'm going to give you five tips for doing that during Writing Workshop.
Number one is conferences. I believe these are the things that could make the biggest difference in your Writing Workshop when it comes to meeting every writer's needs. I gave you a whole episode all about how to give strong writing conferences, that was back in episode 7. Then in our last episode, episode 28, we talked about how to keep the rest of the class writing while you're conferring. So just a quick recap, writing conferences are when you meet individually with student writers and talk to them about their writing and give them a strategy to work on for next time.
The biggest challenge with writing conferences that I have always faced is keeping them short enough so that you can meet with EVERYONE once a week. In fact, I'm not sure I was ever successful with that! That's why I would encourage you to also do small group conferences. This is when you group a set of students together that is struggling with the same thing or could grow in the same area, and you bring them together at a table. They all bring their writing and you teach them this new strategy. It's sort of like a mini lesson with a small group, and then you have them apply it to their own writing. Because you're meeting with so many students at once, probably three to five, you could take a longer time than for a typical conference. You could spend 15 to 20 minutes with this group so you really have time to digest the strategy and help them try it out in their own writing.
Tip number two to meet every writer's needs is to check their work at the end of the week. It's very easy to get caught up in the workshop and your conferences and not always know where every writer is. And so, a way to keep yourself constantly aware of that, is to think about doing something on Friday. It could be your Friday routine where after Writing Workshop they open up their folder or their notebook to their favorite piece of writing from that week. Hopefully they're dating, they're writing with a date stamp, so they can find something from that week, and they open it up and put it on a pile. They just keep putting them on top of the previous student's pile until you have a big stack of writing to look at.
This does not have to take a lot of your time over the weekend, I think you could do it in half an hour. Just look at every notebook or paper that's facing up. You might also want to go through some other ones in their folder if you think you need a better picture of where they're at. You could give a little feedback with a sticky note, and then you could write notes for yourself about how they're doing. This might also help you see who is in need of a conference next week, or if you notice a group of students that are struggling with the same thing or that are ready for the next step, you could plan a small group conference on a particular topic with those students.
Tip number three is to adjust your curriculum to meet the needs of your students. Many people use a Writing Workshop curriculum that they buy on Teachers Pay Teachers, or maybe they use Lucy Calkins Units of Study. Those curricula are going to have a list of lessons laid out in order, and that can be extremely helpful, especially when you're stuck for what to teach next. But one thing they can't do is know exactly what your students need at any given time. While it is good to use those curricula so you don't miss anything and you keep your students moving as writers, there are times where you're going to have to interrupt the prescribed lessons and teach something extra.
Let's say you're teaching your third graders a unit about personal narrative and all of a sudden you notice they're all using quotation marks, or many of them are, and they're using them incorrectly. Well, take a break and teach a writing mini lesson about the proper use of quotation marks.
Let's say you're teaching kindergarten and the lessons are about using drawing to teach something about your writing, but you're finding that many of the students are just getting stuck and aren't sure even how to begin. Then you're going to want to take a break and do a writing mini lesson about how to get unstuck, or how to find ideas for your writing.
Always try to be in tune with where your students are. You can be in tune by checking the writing at the end of the week that I mentioned in the last tip. By doing that, you'll see where your students are struggling or where they could move forward.
Tip number four is one I wish I had known when I was a teacher, and that is to use sharing time as teaching time.
I have to admit, I did not look forward to sharing time and I skipped it more often than not. To me, sharing time was just show and tell time, which got really long and tedious for the rest of us when students were just reading their writing. I've since learned that sharing time is not show and tell. It can be that, but it is also teaching time.
You don't have to have a student read all four pages of their story. You can have them choose their favorite part and tell why it was their favorite. You can take students who were struggling and then you find something they did really well, even if it was just writing a single word in a kindergarten story. You can highlight that and you can have them share their success during sharing time. That's a way to meet individual needs. Students need to be recognized, they need to be encouraged. Even if their writing is not where everyone else's is at, you can teach your class to celebrate the successes of all your students.
My final quick tip today is to educate yourself. There is so much to learn about teaching writing and there are so many great books out there to teach you.
Here are some of my favorite books about teaching writing. I have always loved any books by Regie Routman and Lucy Calkins. Warning: Lucy Calkins tends to be long-winded and her books are usually long. If you want something a little more concise check out Regie Routman, like her book "Writing Essentials". It's an old one, but it's a good one. Some other books if you're teaching very young writers are the books "Talking, Drawing, Writing" by Martha Horn and Mary Ellen Giacobbe. This is a really good book because the authors take children where they are and lead them into the world of writing through drawing. The best part of this book is that it contains a bunch of easy to follow lessons.
Another really good book for young writers is called "Already Ready" by Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover. There's another book that Katie Wood Ray has written, it's called "About the Authors". That's a good one. If you're teaching first grade, you should read the book, "...And With a Light Touch" by Carol Avery. She talks a lot in there about teaching writing to young kids.
If you want to get better at writing conferences, you'll really love Carl Anderson's book, "How's It Going?" It's not super long, and it is super practical! A really good book with lots of lessons in it is called "No More 'I'm Done!'" By Jennifer Jacobson. It has lots of ways to help students be independent writers. I believe she's also written a book for slightly older writers with other good ideas.
There are many, many books about teaching writing that I love! I'm going to link to a blog post I have on my favorite books about teaching writing.
If you really want to dive deep into how to teach writing with a practical guide and 200 lessons that you can use in K-2, I recommend my online course Teaching Every Writer. As I record this in January of 2021, the course is open for enrollment. In the future, we will close it between sessions. So now is a really good chance to get in if you want to improve the way that you teach writing in 2021. You can learn more about that course at teachingeverywriter.com.
Let's go ahead and sum up the tips we talked about in today's episode, how to meet every writer's needs during Writing Workshop.
Number one is to do conferences. If it's hard for you to squeeze enough in, you can certainly also do small group conferences and meet with more students at one time.
Number two is to check student writing at the end of the week. Have them open their notebook or their folder to their latest piece, or their favorite piece from the week, and put them in a big stack. Then you just check each piece of writing over the weekend making notes about workshop mini lesson changes you want to make or conferences that you want to have.
That brings us to tip number three, which is to adjust your curriculum to meet current needs. It's extremely helpful to have a step-by-step Writing Workshop curriculum, but it's also good not to be completely tied to it. Whenever you notice that your students need review of something or to learn a different strategy, take a break from your curriculum and insert a different lesson.
Number four is to use sharing time as teaching time. It's not just show and tell, it's a chance to highlight individual students and teach students something using their peers' writing.
And finally, number five, educate yourself about what it means to be an excellent teacher of writing. I've linked my favorite books about writing in the show notes, and I also recommend that you join us in our online course, Teaching Every Writer.
This concludes our series about teaching writing, but there's much more on the blog. You can find links to other posts about teaching writing in the show notes for this episode. You can find the show notes at themeasuredmom.com/episode29. Thanks so much for listening and I'll talk to you again next week.
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- Episode 7: 5 secrets to strong writing conferences
- Episode 28: How to keep the rest of the class writing while you confer
Recommended books about teaching writing
Other blog posts