What is a Writing Workshop?
A workshop model for teaching writing is one of the most common approaches leading schools are implementing to teach students writing today. And for good reasons:
- A writing workshop puts students at the center of decision making.
- Students enjoy long uninterrupted stretches of time for writing, mostly on topics of their choice.
- Students participate in goal setting and self-assessment.
- Students gain confidence as they increase their stamina, expertise, and ease with the writing process.
Just like with a sport or musical instrument, repeated practice with specific and timely feedback is a powerful way to improve skills.
During a typical 45-minute writing workshop session, students begin by participating in a mini-lesson with the teacher. This is direct and explicit instruction. The teacher may model a skill or build anchor charts students can reference later, independently. Students might also participate in partner work such as rehearsing their writing orally. Then they spend most of the workshop writing: drafting ideas, composing, revising, editing or publishing a completed piece depending on the stage they are at in the writing process. During this time, teachers are circulating through the class conferring with individual students about their writing or holding a small group to work on needed skills she has identified during previous days’ observations. At the end of the workshop, the teacher often brings the class back together for a sharing time during which the teacher may reinforce lesson objectives or ask students to share their work.
The Fay School has adopted Units of Study, K-5 Writing by Lucy Calkins and colleagues. Over thirty years ago, Calkins and her colleagues started The Reading and Writing Project at Columbia Teachers College. During this time, they have been a think tank and training institute for teachers across the United States, including teachers at Fay. They have written several books as they have refined their research and piloted their curriculum in local schools. This newest program consists of vertically aligned units including narrative, opinion and information writing that spirals with increasing complexity through the grades. It encourages high-level thinking by providing students with frequent opportunities to think critically about their work through synthesis and self-assessment. With checklists and writing conferences, teachers can differentiate instruction in order to meet each child where they are in their writing development and take them as far as they can go. Assessment is clearly laid out through learning progressions and rubrics that can be shared with other teachers and parents.
Parents also have a role to play in students’ writing development. There are many activities you can do at home to support your child’s learning. Be a storyteller. Use vivid language to “show, not tell” events in your life. Retell family legends or make up funny stories together. Don’t forget to read together every day because great picture and chapter books are important mentor texts to writers of all ages. When your child brings writing pieces home, notice their development. Instead of saying, “This is great!” or “I love it!” use phrases like, “I noticed you started all sentences with capital letters.” or “Your story had a clear beginning, middle and end.” These phrases point out concrete areas of growth from which your child can derive internal gratification instead of experiencing external motivation. And, as always, celebrate learning!
About the Author: This is Melissa’s first year as Fay’s principal, but as the mother of two teenagers and almost twenty years in education, she has launched many successful school years. When she’s not learning and playing at Fay, she can be found eating her way through the vast number of great restaurants in Houston with her family or walking her rat terrier, Lulu.