Why a writing workshop framework works for young authors

Our goal is to develop independence in young authors

writing-workshop-authorsWe all have stories to tell. Regardless if our stories are told orally, through body language, or written composition, students need to feel ownership and validation in their work.

As a member of the National Writing Project and a national literacy consultant, it is my goal to share the importance of choice in student writing.

Writing workshop is a model that encourages students to self-select topics of interest while developing young writers as independent authors who write for an authentic purpose and audience.

As young authors, students (as young as pre-kindergarten) should be given the creative freedom to write about the stories they’re passionate about telling. It is our responsibility as educators to cultivate that passion through actively becoming interested in their stories and building relationships with our students so that we know precisely how to suggest key revision strategies to support each individual writer.

I often tell parents and fellow educators that it is not about the medium used to tell the story but rather the message being told. Stating this is important because I’m often asked about students with learning differences.  With the accessibility of assistive technology, students are now able to share their stories in a variety of mediums.

(Next page: Do you teach the writer or the writing?)

I’ve had grade two students share their work through oral story telling tools like the Livescribe Smartpen or iOS applications like Tell About This. Students can later scribe their work via a traditional methods like writing with paper and pencil or typing their stories using a keyboard and a computer. We respect and appreciate great artists for the variety of mediums they use in their work. We should do the same for young authors as they tell their stories using a variety of mediums in their work.

Do you teach the writer or the writing? In our writing workshop, we focus on supporting the individual writer.  This means, we do not have writing prompts our authors reply to as a class. We also do not teach units on grammar.

Instead, we allow for choice in writing. Every story is unique. Each child has ownership over his or her creative work. Our goal is to develop independence in young authors. If we can give them the necessary tools to craft their stories, they can support one another through rich revision techniques via peer conferencing. Through mini-lessons, teachers share ingredients that great writing is comprised of.

For example, one mini-lesson may demonstrate how author’s like Jonathan London use strong character action to help the reader visualize the action being told within the story. Students are encouraged to apply this concept to their individual stories during independent writing time. This looks very different for each young author. Additionally, writers understand that their stories do not need to be completed by the end of the class time. Instead, each writer understands that writing is a process and looks different for everyone.

As students learn about different craft elements that make up great writing, they’re immersed in rich, specific examples through reading mentor texts. Writers listen to published works read aloud and study the craft used within the story. These published works can consist of notable adult authors, award-winning books, teacher contributions, and student’s published examples.

During workshop, explicit attention is directed towards the details within the mentor text in effort to provide a model for writer’s to try in their own story. When the students are engaged in independent writing time, the teacher holds conferences with individuals and small groups of writer’s to differentiate the instruction for exactly what the individual or small group needs. Towards the end of the writing workshop time, the group is gathered back together to bring closure to the lesson and share highlights from their work. Again, the focus is on developing children as independent, lifelong writers.

On July 16, 2014, I have the opportunity to share the process of writing workshop and how it looks in our elementary classroom at the annual Blended Learning Conference held in Boston, MA. I invite those in attendance to come to this session and have a closer look at exactly how this transfers to student writing.  A complete session description can be found below this article. You can also see more about my sessions by visiting my BLC Speaker Page.

Erin Klein is a teacher, author, and parent who has earned her Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction and currently teaches second grade at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, MI. Her work can be seen on her own site, kleinspiration.com, on the Top Teaching Blog through scholastic.com, and on Twitter @KleinErin.  

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