On November 9, I facilitated a Writer’s Workshop at the Educational Service Center. Below you will find the Q and A and some resources I use for the event.
To begin, here is a link to the Power Point used in the workshop. In addition, here are other resources you may find helpful:
- Overview of writers workshop (handout)
- Writer’s workshop coaching sheet
- Writer’s workshop note taking sheet
- Writers workshop revision record
Also, here are the TEDTalks from Brene Brown on vulnerability and shame that I mentioned.
In preparation for a Writer’s Workshop (thoroughly explained in this post), Leslie Harris and I planned a lesson that utilized a “storytelling” technique and incorporated the use of the feedback stems for the Writer’s Workshop.
The learning targets for the lesson were as follows:
- I can tell an engaging story that follows a narrative arc and uses well chosen details.
- I can give useful feedback in the Writer’s Workshop format to help my partner improve his or her narrative skills.
- I can reflect on someone feedback to improve my own narrative skills.
To begin the lesson, we reviewed the instructions handout (at the bottom of this post) with students to familiarize them with the process. Then, Harris and I took turns modeling how to plan a story in writing (focusing on key moments that build the narrative arc) and then tell the story verbally.
During the teacher’s story, the students took notes, and then afterward, they gave positive and constructive feedback using the stems provided in the Writer’s Workshop process.
After modeling the process, students chose a story prompt, mapped out their own story in writing, and then shared their stories with a partner to receive feedback for improvement which they recorded on their worksheet.
Afterward, they reflected on the process, making connections to writing and feedback using an exit ticket (see bottom of the post).
The lesson was a successful introduction to peer feedback and a good review of narrative structure. The exit ticket showed that students understood the need to “notice detail” when listening to give feedback and “be specific” about the sensory information they use in their own writing.
Here are the resources we used:
- Storytelling to Introduce Writers Workshop Handout
- Storytelling Exit Ticket
- Modeling Storytelling Graphic Organizer (to be filled out with students while modeling the planning process for verbal narrative)
Here are some additional resources on verbal narrative (storytelling):
- The Moth: a podcast and radio show where people tell “true stories, told live” without notes at “Moth” events. There are many stories told by writers, actors, and performers. Some are from people with jobs ranging from firefighter to teacher as well.
- True Story: a podcast and radio show with the same premise as The Moth, but the storytelling events are usually smaller. These events are not planned by a central organization, but instead by people who know about the show, plan an event themselves and then send the recording to the people at True Story
Carrie Eneix and I worked on a long-term project with ninth grade students referenced in the following posts:
- Poetry uses the Left Brain: Creative Writing, and Research?
- Writer’s Workshop: Effective Peer Feedback.
To briefly summarize the process, here were the stages:
- Introducing research in creative writing in conjunction with The Secret Life of Bees
- A creative writing assignment incorporating research with a focus to either, A. use an animal or creature as a metaphor or B. to write as a member of a “self-selected” community
- A writer’s workshop to share work and receive feedback
- Performance of the final work in front of the class
While this assignment was inherently about “creative writing,” it met many of the Core Curriculum Standards while also engaging students enough to create some of the very best writing and research I have seen in a classroom. Some of her students’ work literally gave me chills. I would love to post it here, but alas, I am not able. I do have many of them recorded and can show them to any interested teacher in the district.
Here is a list of all of the standards addressed by the three-week unit:
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 (Substandards A-E). Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1–3 up to and including grades 9–10 here.)
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas…
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
From going through this process, I think I learned how assessing and teaching the skills in the standards can be a rich, creative experience. It also confirmed for me that students are willing to do amazing work and put in the hard hours if the task is worthwhile and engaging to them; the concepts of rigor and relevance really are entwined.
Overall, I would say working with Eneix and her students was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences I have had thus far as a coach. Eneix was willing to take a number of risks in the classroom with me- which is not an easy thing to do. In addition, because I was in her classroom for a longer period of time, I felt I really got to know her style and her students; it became a true “co-teaching” experience.
A few years ago, it would have been hard for me to imagine students saying things to one another in peer review like:
- I wonder of you could dig back into your research to further develop your metaphor.
- Is there a way that you could incorporate your theme into your narrative instead of coming out and stating it directly?
- Do you think you could develop your imagery in the beginning to establish the setting? I was not sure where your story was taking place.
- Could you could use another word for “sad.” I thought I heard it twice in a couple of sentences. Is there another word that might paint a better picture for the reader?
- Could you reread the line that starts…
- What was your theme? I thought it might be about finding a home, but I wasn’t sure I got the whole thing.
- Your descriptive language made me feel as though I was there. I loved your use of “…”
For whatever reason, peer review was just not effective in my classroom. This lays a heavy burden on the teacher to be the only one who can give guidance and direction in students’ writing. What if you miss something? What if the student doesn’t understand the way a teacher has phrased the feedback?
However, I have been working with Carrie Eneix on a long-term project to use creative writing (poetry and narrative) to engage students in the writing, revision and research process, and these are the exact statements I heard from her freshmen over the three days of the workshop. You can read more about our work together here.
In order to address the use of revision to improve students writing, we used a strategy called “Writer’s Workshop.” This is a technique I have modified from my work in the PAGES program. As a general summation, “Writer’s Workshop” is a peer feedback model where students share their work with the whole group via reading it aloud. Other students take notes over what they hear and then and follow a set verbal feedback procedure. (See below for explicit instructions and a handout that can be used with teachers and students new to the practice of “workshopping”). Here are the targets of the lesson:
- I can actively listen and participate in a respectful group discussion that includes sharing, reflection and instruction.
- I can give productive and insightful feedback for revision to my fellow writers.
- I can use instructive feedback to revise my writing, creating a more concise and engaging, and well-written piece.
As Eneix so aptly pointed out to students, they not only benefited from receiving feedback on their own writing, they also benefited from having many other student models; they were explicitly encouraged to also use these. In addition, they were able to practice speaking and listening skills via the procedures and norms established for the group. They earned credit for the workshop by giving productive feedback at least three and up to eight times per day of the workshop.
A couple of things to note about the use of Writer’s Workshop:
- It will take at least three days for a class of twenty or more
- The writing piece needs to be fairly short or students should choose only a part to read (for example the introduction and thesis with more informational types of writing)
- Students need to be explicitly taught what to look for in a piece beforehand through previous lessons
- Students must feel safe with one another- norms are important
- The “rephrasing” of the constructive feedback needs to be practiced. It might be helpful to give some examples and model beforehand; in addition, continue to model and help students rephrase throughout the activity
When all of these things are in place, I believe that this form of workshopping is the most effective revision method I have found as a teacher. Having used this in numerous classrooms, I have yet to see a group of students who did not seem to benefit from the strategy. If you would like to try it in your classroom, please let me know.
Below are the resources for the lesson: