Judy Davis, who taught in the New York City Public School system for thirty years, and Sharron Hill, a teacher, literacy staff developer, and administrator at the Manhattan New School wrote a book titled
The No-Nonsense Guide to Teaching Writing
. They explained, "Effective writing instruction begins with specific goals and thoughtful, detailed plans for the year ahead, as well as clearly-defined structure and organization for the writing day."
They could not be more correct. While writing workshop at times is not totally structured, it has to be planned in a way that will work for all students. Using the workshop model to plan and teach writing is the best way to make sure the students are getting all the information they need to get their work completed.
A Writing Workshop is usually planned for about a 45-60 minute time block. In the block is a mini lesson, which takes about 10-20 minutes; student working time, which is about 30-45 minutes; and then a share and debrief time, which is about 5-10 minutes at the end.
The purpose of the mini lesson is to provide whole class instruction at the onset of the Writing Workshop. The mini lesson should be brief, to the point: it should use language that students can understand and address one clear objective that the students will then go off and try to accomplish during independent writing time.
This is the time when the teacher talks. This is when the teacher models for the class something the teacher has noticed the students need to work on or a new idea or topic that they need to learn about. This is where they get the information they are going to need to get their work done independently.
During the independent student work time, the most crucial part of the writing workshop happens. While the students are working independently on the task they are assigned, the teacher is conferring with the students about their writing. This is probably the hardest part of our job as writing teachers. At the heart of every good conference is listening. During conferences, as outlined by Lucy Calkins in
The Art of Teaching Writing
, "we must
by asking questions that help the writers uncover their plans for their writing,
what they need to learn, then
the writer accordingly."
We also need to be making sure the students are able to do the work that is expected of them.
The magic of the Writing Workshop is that students are ultimately able to work at their own pace. Some students may be working on their planning process, while others are working on adding an exciting conclusion, and then some students are typing their final draft. As long as all the students are engaged and the teacher is conferencing after having taught worthwhile mini lessons that the majority of the class need, then a successful writing workshop is happening in the classroom.