Writing

How to Create Independence in Young Writers

 

As teachers, we want the best for our young writers.  We want them to grow, flourish, and enjoy writing.   We want them to have the confidence and motivation to continue writing and do their best work.  Creating independence can be a tricky task.  When done well, your Writing Workshop can run like a well-oiled machine.  Creating independence with your writers opens up the freedom for you to do what you do best – teach!

 

During independent writing time, you’re trying to hold conferences or working with your students in small groups.  And when working with those students, other distractions are going to hold you back from doing your best teaching.

 

Your one on one or small group conferences are PRECIOUS.  This is where the magic happens.  Your relationship with your students grows and their writing grows with it.  Every other writer in the room NEEDS to be independent so your full attention can go to the writers you are working with at that moment.

 

I teach this idea at the beginning of the year so that students understand WHY their independence is so important.  Of course, so that they can do their best writing.  #respectforself  Also, knowing that at some point they will be sitting next to their teacher and wanting his or her full attention.  Just like they would their teacher’s undivided attention, they have to allow others to have the time as well. #respectforothers.

 

Beyond this speech that I give my students at the beginning of the year, I have several actionable strategies that I use to create independence in Writing Workshop.  Ideally, you want to start these at the beginning of the year.  I truly believe that these ideas are timeless and could be implemented at any point of the year.  Just focus on being consistent and sending a clear message that you expect independence.  We all know that just because we teach something at the beginning of the year does not mean it will not need to be retaught.  There’s not much set it and forget it in teaching! I do believe the more we do this at the beginning of the year, the less we will have to do throughout the year.  At the very least, we’ll probably have a couple of minions who give reminders for us.  Side Note: One of my favorite responses to students who forgot, don’t know what to do, etc. is that they better ask a friend because I have to move on to my next teacher task.  This teaches them to ask their peers before me. I am not their only resource in the room.  

Actually, that sounds really good.  Repeat after me:

 

I am not the only resource in the room.

 

Let’s dive in, how can we create independence during Writing Workshop?

 

1//  Set expectations for moving through different stages of writing.  

Honor the fact that your writers may and will be at different stages of their writing.  Of course, you can differentiate during independent writing, but it is important to establish this understanding that we may all be doing something different.  

 

You can set this expectation by…

 

  • Teach that we are all different writers. Explain to students at the beginning of the year that we are all different writers and we all move at different paces.  You might say: “Sometimes when I teach you something, you might not be ready to try it… yet. But, you want to practice it and hold on to it so that when you get to that next stage, you know exactly what to do.”  (Reteach as needed.)

 

  • Mini-lesson Structure: Set up your mini-lessons in a way that all students can practice the strategy and have a place to keep notes or a chart (see below) during the lesson.  This way even if they are not ready to use the particular strategy in their own writing, it is something they have done before and have a point of reference.  

 

  • Accountability Partner:  At the end of your mini-lesson, name 1-3 things they might be working on at this point in the unit.  Students can turn and tell their partner exactly what they will be working on for the day.  Students should ALWAYS know what to do before they leave the carpet. Have them tell their partner what they will work on first and then what is their next step after that.  They could also simply write it on a post-it note or in their notebook so they have it right in front of them.

 

 

  • Step by Step: Make a chart of what you have taught step-by-step that is displayed throughout the unit so they know what to work on once they finish each step.  For example:
  1. Unpack the Prompt
  2. Read the texts + Annotate
  3. Make a Plan
  4. Introduction
  5. Draft with Transition Words
  6. Conclusion
  7. Revise
  8. Edit

 

You could definitely get way more specific depending on what you have taught, but you get the idea.  Make a chart that outlines the strategies you have taught.

 

2//  There’s a chart for that! {Writing Notebook Anchor Charts}

This next one is probably my best idea of my life.  I’m not saying this to toot my own horn, and I know it sounds dramatic.  But, I’m serious.  I’m saying this because I believe it.  I LOVE me some anchor charts!  I LOVE looking at them, I LOVE making them, and I LOVE using them.  I even love looking through my computer and being reminded of all the different anchor charts that I’ve used before.  However, it also reminds me that there is no way that I could ever display all of these charts and where do they go at the end of the year, how will I store them? Should I keep them after the year- or if we are being realistic- at the end of 5 years or when I change classrooms.  Whichever comes first, right?

 

This is precisely why I started making anchor charts for Reading and Writing notebooks.  I wanted students to have access to certain strategies whenever they needed it. Lord knows I’m not going to let them dig through that dusty closet.  

 

They need to have access at their fingertips.  

 

I’ve created anchor charts for every teaching point in my writing units and all the big skills that students will need to continuously go back to when writing.  So when they are ready to move on to that next step in their writing, they’ve got a chart ready and waiting.

Tips:

  • Do not have students glue in all the charts at once. Have them put the charts in as you teach the strategy. You could do a few at a time to save
    “gluing time.”  For example, if you already know what you will be teaching each week, then have students glue in the charts on Monday.  
  • Have students leave the page next to the chart blank to practice the strategy.  (if appropriate)
  • OR keep all charts in the back of the notebook for future reference.  If you use a binder and not a writing notebook, all charts in my units come with a full page version.

 

This chart is a sneak peek at some updates coming to my Personal Narrative Writing Unit and a Mentor Text Lesson Plan for Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts.  

 

“I’m Done!” Chart

 

“I’m Done!”

These two words can make any writing teacher cringe.  You’re in the middle of a conference and your whole class is writing quietly.  All of the sudden, little Johnny feels like he needs to let the entire class know that he is done with his writing.  First, you want to roll your eyes, but being the good teacher you are, you know THAT is not the appropriate response.  You can see about ten things he needs to work on, not to mention the fact that he hasn’t used a period all year. Plus, you are in the middle of a conference with another student.  Pretty soon, you’re going to have Susie and Bobby shouting out they’re done too! What’s a writing teacher to do?!

 

Can you relate?

 

At the beginning of the year, I teach my students that a)  we don’t shout out and disturb other writers during the writing process to update our class on our status- we’re not Facebook.  b) when we think we’re done, we’re probably not. We might be done with a particular part of our writing, but there are certain steps a writer has to go through to make sure their writing is the best that it can be.  

 

So I thought, what better way to remind my students of this than a chart?  The I’m Done!” chart can be used to teach this expectation at the beginning of the year as well as a continuous reminder.  I plan to put this inside the front cover of my students’ notebook where they can’t miss it! 🙂

 

3// Establish Predictable Routines 

Set routines at the beginning of the year and more importantly, follow through and reteach when needed.  What kind of routines need to be taught at the beginning of the year? I have a new writing unit coming out in early August for Launching Writing Workshop.  This unit goes deep into setting expectations and organizing the writing workshop.  (It will also be included as part of our Writing Membership) But here are some biggies that you probably want to think about.

 

Materials

  • Writers come prepared with their writing materials.  
  • What if my pencil breaks?  Pro Tip:  ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS have extra sharpened pencils so that you don’t have to worry about it.  Make this a student job. (Pencil Patrol)
  • Writers treat their notebook with respect. (don’t lose it, use it for another subject, etc.)
  • Writers write in a way that others can read it. (neat handwriting)

 

What if…?  Chart

Generate a What if…? Chart with your students to solve predictable problems.  Students write on a post-it note their what-if questions and post on chart paper.  You can sort these notes at the end of the day and come back to them with answers OR just discuss them on the spot.  

(FYI: Ryan helped me create this particular chart and I LOVED his writing struggles.  I gave him some, but “Does this sound right?” and “I can’t spell this word” was all him! 🙂 )

 

Writing Behaviors

Teach specific writing behaviors.  

For example, “What can I do when I lose focus?” Pause, take a deep breath and picture what it is that I want to write about.  Other behaviors include partnership conversations, how to get materials out, and where to put them when they are done. 

 

4//  Set an Expectation for Conferences

 

Set the expectation that you WILL have a specific time to meet with students.  This lets them know that there is time set aside to work with you one on one or in a small group, so until then they should be working independently.  They should try to solve their problems on their own. If there is something specific they want to meet with you about, then make a note inside their writing notebook so they don’t forget.  This gives them a place to put it, so they can move on.  This is kind of like when we make a grocery list or a to-do list.  We know we’ve put this thought somewhere, so our brain has space to move on and think about something else.  Another tip is to have a designated spot in the classroom for students to sign up for a conference if they have something specific they want to meet with you about.  It could be as simple as writing their name on the whiteboard.  Which they LOVE, so be careful with that. You can guarantee that someone will write their name JUST so they can use the whiteboard. 😉

Compliment Conferences

Another tip for helping students know that they CAN be independent is to tell them what they are doing well.  For the first few weeks of school, I ONLY give compliment conferences for two reasons.

 

1:  I want to build a relationship with my students and point out what they already know how to do.  I want them to associate our writing conferences as a positive experience and to actually look forward to working with me.

 

2:  I want to build their confidence as a writer.  This leads to independence and motivation. If they know that they already have certain skills, as little or as big as they may be, then this creates a space for me to build on to those skills.  More importantly, the better they feel about their writing, the more they are going to enjoy writing.

 

And honestly, that’s what matters most.

 

So, there you have it.  These are my top tips for creating independence in Writing Workshop.  Before you go, be sure you are signed up for my weekly newsletter and access to my Free Resource Library.   If you are looking for more writing resources…

 

Sign Up for Free Resource Library access!

 

 

I’ll see you next week when we dive into some ways to differentiate for our young writers.

 

What other struggles do you face with teaching writing? Let me know in the comments. 🙂

 

 

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