Archive for October, 2010

Why Writing Workshop?

Energized. That’s the word I needed earlier today. A friend asked how teaching’s going, and I tried to explain but couldn’t find the word to convey the difference in this year versus last or the year before or before or before. I’m usually counting the moments to Fair Day and a day off, tired of dealing with lazy kids and too-busy schedules to want to think down the calendar.  But this year I’m reading ahead, planning ahead, hoping ahead, trying to stay ahead of my students who have stepped up the learning. As I drove home I thought about it. What’s different?

  • Student choice in reading materials. So students want to read.
  • Student choice in writing topics. So students want to write.
  • Students talking about their writing/reading. So student talk is learning.

Yep, energized. Students are working. Pretty sure I’m having fun.

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What Works and what doesn’t

We’re six weeks in to the semester. My students pretty much know what to expect each day: They pull out their personalized writer’s notebooks, get their pens ready, and write in response to some kind of thought stimulant. So, today my daily routine didn’t work.

In a hurry, I didn’t take the time to find a video or passage that gave my students any ownership. Oh, the youtube clip was precious. You probably know the one “Charlie bit my finger.” I asked my kids to watch it and then write what they thought, considering the overall message of the clip. Now, I’m thinking, “This is easy. They’ll get that it’s all about avoiding traps that can cause us pain.” Nope. Not even close.

The typical response from 62 kids  (and I gave them 5 minutes to write) went something like:

“I thought this video was funny the first time I saw it. Now I’ve seen it a billion times, and it is just annoying.”

I learned a valuable lesson:  If I want students to think, I have to give them something to think about. Topics that inspire controversy. Topics that my students might see in themselves or their lives somehow. Topics that evoke passion or anger or even remorse. Just because the video clip is funny does not make it thought-provoking. Simple.

Tomorrow I’m showing a clip on gangs and how they are making threats on youtube. This will get some kind of response. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDIzgAr3erQ

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Reading Writing Workshop in Secondary School

It’s working. Workshop that is. I’d wanted to try the reading writing workshop approach in my secondary classes for sometime, but I’d always lacked the faith to turn so much responsibility over to my students. I didn’t trust them to stay on task. I didn’t trust myself to allow them to explore topics on their own. I didn’t think they would take advantage of the time I gave them to read and write during class. I was wrong. Very very wrong.

I started the school year with a different mindset than I’d had in the past. I studied all summer on how to create a workshop, student-centered classroom. I read Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle, Linda Reif’s Seeking Diversity, Ralph Fletcher’s Writer’s Notebook and thankfully had the chance to attend a training with Penny Kittle. I read her book Write Beside Them in one long sitting and knew that my philosophy on teaching had changed. I determined to give up the traditional model and turn to Workshop.

I currently teach juniors in AP Language and Composition and sophomores in English II. Both classes work pretty much the same way:  student choice in what they read; student choice in what they write; lots of student talk about what they’re writing and what they think…and boy, is it enlightening, entertaining, and inspiring to learn what these kids think!

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