Sunday, May 27, 2012

Writer's Workshop

The one thing I've learned about Writer's Workshop is that when people talk about it - they often mean entirely different things. Writer's Workshop can look completely different in classrooms depending greatly on the teacher's philosophy on teaching writing.... I know this because I myself have moved from one side of the continuum to the other throughout my teaching career.

Prior to about 3 years ago, I taught writing based largely on prompt writing activities. All the writing my kids did was in response to something I asked. I spent time modeling how to master the mechanics of writing (capitalization, punctutation, etc.) and the best way to "respond" to a written prompt. And yes this is a VERY tempting avenue - especially when we are faced with high stakes testing in which kids MUST write in response to a prompt.

However, about 3 years ago I was introduced to Lucy Calkins' Units of Study K-2 and that is when my own Writer's Workshop began to transform. 



Now coming from a teacher that was very prescriptive, it wasn't always an easy transition. However, I am happy to say that I am NOT the writing teacher I used to be. I'm not saying there's never a time for using prompt writing response activities. I think there is definitely a time and place for that sort of practice and reflective thinking. However, I do believe if we teach children to write the stories that are in their hearts and souls on a daily basis - they will be able to attack any response writing activity that comes their way. I have watched my students' writing grow by leaps and bounds. In fact, my kindergarteners write as well as the 2nd graders I used to teach (that is a bit embarrassing to admit). The style of writing instruction that Lucky Calkins' advocates really works!  So, I wanted to give you a peek inside my classroom during Writer's Workshop.

At the beginning of the year, I use LOTS of time pumping the kids up for this special time. I really make a big deal about being writers and how all of us are writers with stories to tell. I take reluctant writers and "prove" to them that they have amazing stories to tell/write. And, once they are empowered with that belief - amazing writers is exactly what they become!

I use music to signal nearly every part of our school day. And, Writer's Workshop is no exception. I use beautiful, calm music that the kids fall in love with. Many teachers use classical music. I do NOT because I find it tends to help little ones fall asleep to easy :0) So, I use soft music that is also catchy...These songs become the mantra of our Writer's Workshop time for the entire year.

In addition to music, I also turn half the lights out and use lamps instead - it really helps to set the tone for a quiet, peaceful writing time. And, it's a time the kids REALLY enjoy - they do not like missing Writer's Workshop time. :0)

 Kids choose their perfect writing spot.... We are usually laid out all over the room. They take their writing folders (or composition books during the last month of school) along with their crayons and pen to a place in the room where they sit or lay down to write.

Yes......you heard me correct! My kids write with pens - not pencils. The reason is two-fold.
1. I don't have to sharpen pencils :0)
2. The focus is on getting our ideas/stories on paper - not perfection. There is no erasing...or throwing paper away... we do our best work! If we mess up we draw a line through it and keep right on going!






The picture above shows our "showcase" at the end of Writer's Workshop. This is a time when the kids return the carpet and sit in a circle with their writing. Then, when we say "Showcase" everyone shows off their writing job! They are so proud of the writing they do - especially by the end of the year. After "showcase" comes the time when they "turn & talk" about their story with someone sitting beside them. 

**You may notice they are using composition books in these pictures. For the majority of the year they use basic writing paper (from the Lucy Calkins' Units of Study CD). However, the last month of school, I have them use the composition books. By now their writing has grown so wonderfully I want them to refer back to it during the summer and continue using the composition book during summer to write. It's sort of a rite of passage :0)Trust me, they remember those special stories they wrote the last month of school and it helps them take school memories home. :0)

I hope you enjoyed this peek inside our Writer's Workshop. Please leave a comment below and tell me about yours or any questions or concerns you have about Writer's Workshop!


30 comments:

  1. I love Writer's Workshop!! But, I have never thought of the pen thing. I love that idea!! And I'm sure they take it much more seriously using a "big kid" writing tool. :)
    Thanks for the insight!
    -Lacey
    Wild about Teaching!

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  2. Thanks for all of the writer's workshop tips! As a teacher, this is always an area that I try to continue to improve in. I have heard so many great things about using Lucy Calkins for WW. I definitely want to use music more during this time & make it a relaxing atmosphere. Thanks for sharing!
    Lisa
    Learning Is Something to Treasure

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  3. Lisa - we do not have nap time so Writer's Workshop is our "rest time". At the beginning of the year lots of them fall asleep.....but by October or November the writing starts to take shape... We actually do it for about 45 minutes a day. 10-15 mini-lesson and then 20-25 writing time.

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  4. I also love the pen idea!! Thanks for sharing such great writing tips!!
    www.123teachwithme.com
    Tammy

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  5. Your writer's workshop post is invaluable! Thank you so much for sharing!!! I am your newest follower. I am hosting my very first Linky party and would love for you to consider joining. Pop in for a visit if you find a moment :)

    Kelley Dolling
    Teacher Idea Factory

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  6. I love the pen tip! So many of mine think they need a freshly sharpened pencil for every activity, I could sharpen all day long and still have them clamoring for more! Can you be more specific about the songs you use? I would love to have a playlist :)

    Jennifer @ Herding Kats in Kindergarten

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  7. Oh yes girls!! No more pencils....in fact my kids think getting to use pencils in the writing center (during literacy centers) is something special. We use pens from day 1 so they know nothing different.... never an issue with erasing a hole in your paper or breaking the tips....

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  8. My school has used the Columbia Univ/Lucy Calkins writing program for quite a few years. I LOVE it! However, this next year our whole district is moving to Write from the Beginning, and I'm really bummed about it. From what I've seen, it seems really prescriptive and prompt-like. I sure am going to miss the creativity. I guess my challenge will be how to infuse the calkins stuff into WFTB. LOL.

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  9. I appreciate all the writers for providing writing workshop books for kids. At Pencil Heads, we believe that all kids have a story to tell, and we want to help them write it.
    Our mission is to help kids unleash their imaginations onto the blank page and discover the fun that can come from writing. The skills developed through creative writing workshops improve literacy abilities, encourage creative-thinking and build self-esteem.
    Things to do with kids

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  10. Can I ask what specific music you use? And do you follow Lucy Calkins units step by step?

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  11. Thanks for the inspiration! Nice post. :) JG
    http://www.abcsofreading.blogspot.com

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  12. Mallory - let me see if I can think of my playlist from memory....
    Return to Pooh Corner
    Unwritten - Natasha Bettingfield
    Will You Be There - Michael Jackson
    These Hands
    Stand By Me
    Circle of Life
    My Wish - Rascals Flats

    Again, I don't care for classical music even though that is what you hear you should use. My kids fall asleep to it, but I find these songs give the a focus point (they become ingrained in them and help them settle into our workshop). They ADORE the songs and can tell you in a heartbeat that those songs are only for Writer's Workshop time :0)

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  13. Thanks for your post about W.W. I have used Lucy Calkin's books in the past. I wasn't able to bring her books with me when I moved to a new school district. I use bits that I can remember from her books, but your post has helped me remember the importance of her work. I will be definitely be putting her books on my 2012-2013 budget. Do you have a list of the songs on your play list?

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    Replies
    1. You can purchase a $10 book of her units online now. It's a PDF download. Totally worth it!! You have to read through it and pick out mini lessons. They aren't as laid out for you as the set of books, but it still worth it!!

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  14. Thanks for your post about W.W. I have used Lucy Calkin's books in the past. I wasn't able to bring her books with me when I moved to a new school district. I use bits that I can remember from her books, but your post has helped me remember the importance of her work. I will be definitely be putting her books on my 2012-2013 budget. Do you have a list of the songs on your play list?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thanks for your post about W.W. I have used Lucy Calkin's books in the past. I wasn't able to bring her books with me when I moved to a new school district. I use bits that I can remember from her books, but your post has helped me remember the importance of her work. I will be definitely be putting her books on my 2012-2013 budget. Do you have a list of the songs on your play list?

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thanks for your post about W.W. I have used Lucy Calkin's books in the past. I wasn't able to bring her books with me when I moved to a new school district. I use bits that I can remember from her books, but your post has helped me remember the importance of her work. I will be definitely be putting her books on my 2012-2013 budget. Do you have a list of the songs on your play list?

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  17. Love these ideas! THanks for sharing! I love the music idea and the PENS! My first graders will LOVE that part alone! Thanks!
    Ann
    The Caffeinated Classroom

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  18. Ah thanks for the tip Mrs. Richardson - I did not know that....:0)

    Talouly - My play list is above..... I put all the songs (at least the ones I remember off hand) in a comment above....

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  19. This is exactly what Writer's Workshop looks like in my room, as a first grade teacher. When kindergarten teachers don't think their kids can write, except to fill in the blank to a writing prompt I want to scream inside. They can write, and like you said, they can write well. Thanks for sharing what your writers are doing. It gives other teachers hope and a vision for what their kids can do too.
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

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  20. Tammy - you are so "write"! (sorry couldn't resist!) Kinders are fantastic writers because they know no boundaries - no fear (until they are given a reason).

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  21. I agree about the unnaturalness of writing with a script. Based on my experience, students usually have a difficult time choosing a writing topic versus the inability to write. I was wondering how much guidance you provide for your kindergarten students.

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  22. I really don't provide alot of guidance on topic... I do alot of modeling about small moments in my own life. We all have them. Then when they start to write about eating spaghetti last night at dinner I am VERY excited and interested in that story... I make a big deal especially at share time..... That child feels big and capable and others begin to realize they can do the same thing.....

    Really - I remember teaching 2nd and kids telling me that didn't know what to write about......but in kinder - NOT one time has a child told me that.....

    If they need any guidance I would ask something like, "What did you do when you got home last night? What did you have for dinner? What did you watch on TV?" Anything to get a conversation going and then say.....draw me a picture of that.....write about that.....

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  23. My coteacher and I just started a version of Writer's Workshop last year. We sort of "copied" from websites/blogs having never read the books. We LOVED the results! Our students were writing so much better than the previous year. I'm glad to see that we did it mostly "right" too because we felt like we didn't have a clue what we were doing! :-)

    Crystal

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  24. I'm new to Kindergarten this year and would LOVE to do Writer's Workshop but...I don't even know where to start. I'll admit, writing is not my best subject to teach. Do you have any tips websites you could give me to help me look further into it? Thanks. I'm on your FB page if that helps any.
    Thanks!

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  29. I am a second year teacher but a first year K teacher. Writing is definitely the subject I struggle with the most. This 9 weeks we have started writing sentences with narrative writing. My writing time sounds similar to yours. But I still struggle with those who can't get their letters/sounds down on paper. Do you have some sort of writer's conference with students while the rest are working independently?

    ReplyDelete