Hey there! I am so glad you decided to join me in our Summer Writing Workshop Series. This is Week 2 of the series and we are going to dive into how to tackle the issue of TIME in our Writing Workshop (or lack thereof;). Teaching writing is enough of a challenge when we've got 18-22 (or more!) students all at a variety of ability levels. When we are not given enough time to do what we need to do, well, climbing Mt. Everest seems a lot easier.
Before we dive into the issue of time, I think we need to address the elephant in the room. As teachers, lack of time is the bain of our existence. #thestruggleisreal
We will never be heard complaining about how bored we are or how we are stressed to the max because of all our extra time. It ain’t happenin’.
We can’t create time and we only have so much control over our daily schedule, so we have to find solutions to help us on the day-to-day. I love this quote from M. Colleen Cruz in The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, “When you decide to tackle the issue of time, you also attack the issue of values and importance.” (p. 71)
So, let's dive in shall we?
1// Focus on progress over perfection & process over product.
We are going to begin with our writing mindset as teachers. Nine out of ten teachers suffer from perfectionism. Okay, I totally made that up. I don't know the statistic and really didn't feel like putting forth any energy in figuring it out because I KNOW it's an issue. We want things to be perfect and we want to succeed. Coming from a place of love, we also want our kids to succeed. But perfect rarely happens in writing. I know that no matter how many times I read over this blog post, there will be the inevitable typo, grammatical error, or something that just doesn't make sense. I have to be okay with that because if I waited for it to be perfect, I would never hit publish. We need to know that our progress is more important than perfection and the writing process is more important than the writing product. Our students need to know that too. Yep, this is applicable to life, not just writing.
Know in your head several things and be okay with it. ALL of your students are not going to be in the same place with whatever writing technique or strategy you are teaching. They just won’t. And that's okay. So, don’t expect the same thing out of each of your students. Keep a portfolio, writing folder, or binder with their published work from the beginning of the year and add to it throughout the year. You will see growth. As a reminder to all of us, I've created these fun Writing Mindset posters because I think we ALL could use a little encouragement to know that progress is more important than perfection and that the process trumps the product. (Yes, they are in the FREE RESOURCE LIBRARY. ;))
2// Create Structure and Independence
One of the most important things that you CAN do to make the most of your time is to train (err…teach) your students how to be independent, ESPECIALLY at the beginning of the year. This comes from giving them a daily structure to follow and providing teachable moments in which students learn and know how to be independent.
How do I create a Writing Workshop with structure?
I am going to cover this below in the ELA block organization and give you an outline of how your Writing and ELA block could look for each day. You want to keep the structure of your day predictable because this helps YOU as the teacher stay focused on your lesson. It is also important for your students because they know what to expect in the flow of writing workshop, but they don’t know what to expect within the actual lesson. It’s that whole predictability and creativity tension that creates magic!
I think of it like this: Stories have a structure. They have the basic elements (plot, characters, setting, conflict, theme). Writers follow the same predictable plot structure and they use the same story elements, BUT they use their creativity to create a new interesting story that no one has ever written before! As a reader, if they didn’t use that predictable plot structure or predictable story elements, well, we would be lost, or simply just not interested. Even worse.
>>Our writing workshop structure is like the predictable story structure that helps us know what to expect.
>>Our writing mini-lesson is the creativity that keeps writing interesting.
Of course, there are ALWAYS exceptions. There are lessons, days, and activities that you use to mix it up and keep it interesting. For example, you might use a sort to teach the difference between reasons and evidence in opinion writing.
The point is that the more structure you build into your writing time, the more your students will know what to expect. This will help them develop independence and free up more of your time to be more creative in your lessons and differentiate where you need to! 🙂
How do I teach my students to be independent?
I’m going to save the answer to this question for Week 5 where we are tackling the issue of creating independent writers. 😉
3// Prioritize the process.
How do I prioritize what is most important?
I’m going to give you a quick and easy way to think about this. When you are prioritizing what is most important in teaching writing, REMEMBER THIS:
Clarity trumps cleverness.
Even though we want our students to write creatively and enjoy writing, we NEED their writing to be clear. Especially at the elementary level. It’s easy to say this, but how do we do that in the moment of our teaching? We need to teach this writer NOW. This writer needs something to make his writing stronger, but we don’t know what. Let me explain how I prioritize the process. Not only am I prioritizing the process for writing, but I'm prioritizing my process for teaching.
Picture this. You're sitting with a student and you know you could teach this kid at least 16 different things. But you've only got 3 minutes (if that), so what do you teach? Meanwhile, your other students are getting restless and they need you too! We're busy. We don't have time to hem-haw about what we think is the best next step for instruction. We have to take action in the moment. If we don't, then that moment is going to pass us by and what have we taught? Nothing.
No more lost moments. I have identified a process to help you streamline your teaching in the moment.
1>> Focus and Organization.
- Is the writing focused on one thing (as a whole, paragraph, or section)?
- Is the writing organized into paragraphs?
- Is there a clear purpose throughout the writing?
2>>Beginning and Ending.
- Does the writing have an obvious lead or introduction?
- Does the beginning pull the reader in and create a clear purpose for the writing?
- Does the ending pull everything together?
- Does the ending satisfy the reader with a sense of closure?
3>> Transitional Words and Phrases
- Does the writer use transition words and phrases to move the writing along?
- Does the writer use transition words appropriately?
- Does the writer overuse the same transition words? (Circle and change them.)
- Does the writer describe the characters' thoughts and actions?
- Does the writer describe the setting?
- Does the writing include dialogue?
- Does the writer give clear, specific facts and examples that support the main idea?
- Does the writer elaborate to convey an experience or story precisely?
- Does the writer show how the character feels?
- Does the writer unpack the evidence to explain what it means?
- Does the writer elaborate on an idea to explain why it matters??
6>> Craft Moves
If a writer has checked off in all of these areas, then teach them something new and interesting to make their writing even better. For example, you might teach figurative language, sentence structure, comparison language, asking a question and answering it, etc.
7>> Grammar and Conventions
- Did the writer include capital letters, periods, punctuation?
- Did the writer misspell or misuse frequently confused words? (their, there, they're or too, to, two)
- Do sentences need rewording?
You can bet I've included a cheat sheet to include in your conferring binder, folder, or notebook to help you make quick decisions during your conferences in Writing Workshop. (This is located in the FREE Resource Library.)
4// Move through the process multiple times.
Raise your hand if you've ever thought, “I need to move on, but I still have students that aren't getting it. What do I do?” (This is usually me during Math!)
Move on. If a student is struggling with a specific skill, then sitting with the same piece of writing or same essay and rewriting it over and over will become exhausting. They will most likely only learn one thing about writing. They hate it. The more a student struggles, the more they need to move through the process so that they can see how all the little small parts fit together. Focus on what they are doing well and note what part of writing they are still having difficulty with so that you can address the same type of skill in the next round of essays or next unit. Remember: progress over perfection and process over product.
Just because the genre changes doesn't mean the process changes.
Think about the three major genres of the Common Core Standards: Narrative, Informational, and Opinion writing. Each of those standards all include some form of the following:
- Beginning (hook, lead, intro, grabber …all the names)
- Ending (conclusion, closing)
- Transitional Words and Phrases
- Word Choice
- Craft Moves
- Paragraphs and Organization
- Structure for that type of writing
The structure, purpose, and content will change with each type of writing, but you can work on the techniques listed above within whatever unit you are working on. So, don't get tripped up just because you need to switch units or need to move on. It will come around again. If many of your students are struggling with the same thing, then make it a big deal or focus in the next unit.
5// Fitting it all in the block.
Here we go. Let’s get real on how it looks inside the block! Before we dive into this, I do want to urge you to always be thinking about how you can use writing in other content areas or use your content areas to guide your writing topics when possible. Of course, it is not always possible. But the more we can integrate writing across content areas, the less stressed for TIME we are going to feel.
- Use a Timer Speaking from experience, it is so easy to talk through your entire writing block. Especially if you only have 30 minutes. This will also help you to keep your lessons tight and focused.
- Tightly Focused Mini-Lessons (see below) Keep your mini-lessons tightly focused, short and sweet. Get to the point right away. Be short and simple.
- Less is More Sometimes it feels like “I have so much I need to tell them! There is no way I can fit my lesson into 10-15 minutes!” I know. I’ve been there. But the more we talk, the less they are going to be able to try out what we are teaching. (I’ve been there too.) If we teach just enough that they know what they are trying to do, they have an example, and the motivation to TRY it. That’s enough. We can coach and support while they are writing. Making our teaching too long is like watching a movie that needed to end 3 hours ago. I am the queen of saying more than needs to be said and writing more than needs to be written. I tell stories like Luis in Ant Man. But just like Scott says: “Keep it simple! To the point.”
- Incorporate writing in response to reading. Use these short response opportunities to focus on grammar (punctuation, spelling, and conventions). Also, this is a great place to focus on restating the question (R.A.C.E) or focus and organization.
- Make guided writing a part of your small reading groups. For example, if you are teaching main idea over the course of two sessions or a week with a small group, have students create a graphic organizer to summarize the text with the main idea and supporting details. Then, students use the graphic organizers to summarize the text.
- Use Quick Writes to support your Read Aloud. At the end of your read aloud, set the timer for 3 minutes. Tell students to write for 3 minutes without stopping. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, etc. Just GO! This works especially well during the moments of high excitement in the plot of your read aloud or when something especially exciting happens. You can even pose a question about the read aloud or have students write their opinion about a character.
- Integrate Writing into Content Areas Look for places to integrate writing in other subject areas such as Science and Social Studies. If you are not sure what this could look like or think it seems super difficult, you are going to want to be here for Week 4!
- Seek support from your admin. If you KNOW that your students’ writing is suffering due to time, approach your administration with a plan to solve the problem. Ask for flexibility in your ELA block so that maybe some days you spend longer in Writing than Reading. For example, we designated every Wednesday as Writing Wednesday. Since Wednesdays were an early release day anyway, we used our entire ELA block on Writing. This way students could work through the entire writing process. They were expected to read two (or more) texts, create a plan, and write an essay. Of course this took a lot of scaffolding, but we got there! Another option is to flex your ELA block to allow more times on certain days for writing. The following page gives some examples of what this might look like
Structure of the Writing Block
Let’s dive into what an ELA block might actually look like. (You can grab these next few documents inside the Free Resource Library. It’s inside the Prioritize the Process download.) This first graphic is the Time + Structure of the whole ELA block, which includes Reading, Writing, Vocab, Grammar, Word Work, Language. Yep, #allthethings.
This is based on a 90-minute Reading block and 30-minute Writing block. In many schools, a 30-45 minute Reading Intervention is also included. (I did NOT include this in my chart.) While 30 minutes is not ideal, it is the case for many teachers. Some teachers may only have 90 minutes for both Reading and Writing. Hence, the issue of time. 😉
In an ideal world, we would have between 45-60 minutes of time in our Writing Workshop. Sadly, this might not be the case. Here is how a 30-minute Writing Workshop might look:
Let's take a look at what 45-60 minutes of Writing might look like if we could wave our magic wand and make it happen.
Earlier I mentioned seeking support from your admin to flex your ELA block. This document shows some possible ways to do this.
Whew! There you have it! Some of my go-to ways to tackle the issue of time in Writing Workshop. Don't forget to grab your Prioritize the Process free download in the Free Resource Library. What?! You don't have access? Head HERE so that you can get in there immediately! 🙂
I'll see you next week when we dive into the Content + Planning that goes into the Writing Workshop. Until then, you can find me in the following places:
And I'm always an email away: Jessica@theliteracyloft.com
See you next week!
Before you go, I would love to hear your thoughts about tackling the issue of time in the comments section.
In regards to time, what other obstacles make it difficult for you to do your BEST teaching in Writing Workshop?