If you have heard about writer's workshop and thought "That sounds like a good idea, I just don't know how it would work for me", then this post is for you. I've been to two Writer's Workshop trainings, one by Melissa Leach and one by Jessica Rogers. I've blogged before about my top three takeaway tips from Jessica Rogers' session. You can read more about it {here}.

I am slowly starting to integrate a few of their ideas into my daily classroom procedures. I wanted to share my struggles and successes with you, my readers, in hopes that it will help you in your classrooms as well!

Week 1: Write What You Want

Starting on day one, I told my students I would never tell them what to write. We read our mentor text (The Teacher from the Black Lagoon), the kids LOVED IT, as always. I told the students "In a few minutes, I'm going to have you go back to your desk and we are going to practice our independent writing time. I am going to set a timer for ten minutes and for that time you can write, you can draw and you can color. During that ten minutes, there is absolutely no talking and no walking, just writing."

I continued to give the students ideas of what they could write about. Here is just a few:
-write about your feelings on the first day of school
-write about Mrs. Green the Monster
-write about your new teacher
-write about Hubie and his friends
-write about your new friends
-make your own teacher monster

BUT, I also told the students that they could write about ANYTHING that came to mind. If they didn't want to write about their new teacher, they didn't have to because I wanted them to write THE BEST STORY POSSIBLE!

Week 1 Results

Let me just say that it took me a minute to realize that both results need to be equally celebrated. Every teacher hopes for picture #1 that is direct "text to self" connection. It has a full, complete sentence and a detailed and colorful illustration! This kind of picture that makes us feel like we are doing our jobs right (and we do a mental fist pump).

But let's take a minute to talk about picture #2. When you really stop to think about it, this picture is just as much a success story. Did it have anything to do with The Teacher from the Black Lagoon? Absolutely not. BUT, when you stop to think about the fact that  a 6 year old re-created an iconic picture of our first president, George Washington, on the front of a boat crossing the Delaware River, and even tried her best to spell his name at the top, that is PRETTY AMAZING.

It is my goal this year to encourage my students to do more "out of the box" type thinking. I absolutely love seeing picture #1, but now I'm also really looking forward to picture #2.

Another Unexpected Benefit=Flexibility

Another great benefit of letting students choose what they want during independent writing time, is that it provides them with an opportunity to go back and finish something they had previously started and either didn't have time to finish or didn't know how they wanted to finish it yet. I tell my students they can start one "new" page per day. Some students will start on a new page, but other students will start by finishing something they had already started.

The result= independent reading time becomes FLEXIBLE and completely PURPOSEFUL without you having to plan 22 different lessons to meet the needs of 22 different students!

What successes have you had with writer's workshop?

Differentiation. We hear it all the time, we believe in it, but sometimes we have a hard time organizing it. As a teacher, I want to do anything and everything that I can to help my students succeed. I’ve just always struggled with how to differentiate assignments without making it obvious to the rest of my class... UNTIL NOW.

Why I Started It

I started Guided Reading and Guided Math groups last year. (I know, I was behind the times). In an effort to cut down on time between rotations, I started using color coded “group” folders. (I use colors to identify my groups rather than numbers; ex. Pink group, blue group). I would “pre-stuff” the folders the day before so that I would not have to pass out papers in between rotations.

It also served a second, completely unintended purpose. If I only had 19 of my 20 assignments turned in, I could look in the folders to see where the extra assignment was and it was much easier to determine who hadn’t completed it.

How It Helps with Differentiation

Here’s the best part. When I need to differentiate work, I typically do it by group. Whether I am providing additional help or enriching assignments, everyone in that group has the same assignment. Because students ONLY see the work in their group folder, they do not notice that their work is any different than the other groups.

If I had two paper assignments that day (a journal and an excel review sheet), I would put one on each side of the folder. I always made sure that students knew which assignment to start with. They also knew that when one assignment was turned in, they needed to retrieve the second assignment. I love this method because it kept the second assignment “out of sight, out of mind” until the student was ready for it.

But Wait...

I know what you’re thinking, students will still notice. It may just be beginners luck, but I really haven’t experienced that problem. My guided reading/math groups sit at the same “table”. The entire group completes the same rotation at the same time. That means only one group (out of the four total groups) is actually at their desk completing that assignment at a time. The other groups are busy at stations or with the teacher, etc.

Where Are The Folders?

I’ve tried this a few different ways.

Method #1: In the middle of the “table”
What I love: easy access to all students
Not so much: sometimes the supply caddy can get in the way of privacy folders, etc. and it can also be fairly distracting when students are reaching over other students to get to the folder

Method #2: On an empty desk
What I love: it keeps the students’ desks clear and keeps their focus on their assignment
Not so much: you have to have an extra desk in your room (What happens when you get a new student? Eeeek)

Sneak Peak

What's that behind the folders you asked?? Interactive Journals!! I just hate, hate, hate when journals get shoved in a student's desk and all of their hard work gets crumpled and torn and messed up. Our journals stay safe and sound and pretty in our caddy. 

What are some ways you distribute differentiated assignments?

Meet the Teacher Folder

If your school is anything like mine, you send home way TOO MANY papers home on Meet the Teacher night for parents to sign and return to school. To manage the paperwork, I started using a Meet the Teacher folder to help parents identify what needed to be filled out that night, what could be returned on Monday and what information could be left at home. I used these cute little labels to clarify the three categories.

Class Party Sign Ups

I also use my Meet the Teacher folder to collect information about which parents want to volunteer to serve as Room Parent. At my school, the room parent is the guardian angel that organizes ALL class parties! (Seriously, they earn their wings!) I use this form to collect the information that I need, and the information that the room parent will need from parents who want to supply food and favors for the class parties.

Transportation Tags

The campus I work at it 1st-3rd grades. Students are not allowed to walk to and from campus, so we only have two modes of transportation: car pick up or bus rider. At the beginning of every year, I make a tag and attach it to my students backpacks. I've tried several different things in the past.

This year, I chose to go with a simpler design that allows for more flexibility. I will put the student's name at the top, then write their mode of transportation in the blank space. I needed more flexibility because there are now three different porches a student can be picked up on and I want to be able to right their porch number, etc. I used a dry erase in the example, but I plan to use a sharpie (which can still be erased with a Magic Eraser). I'm still trying to decide if I want them to hang vertically or horizontally from backpacks. What do you think?

Ready to Download?

Get them here--->
Meet the Teacher Labels

Also check out--->

I think all teachers would agree that our biggest hope is that learning doesn't stop at the classroom door. We hope our students become readers and writers for life! School starts in just over two weeks, which is perfect time to get our teacher juices flowing with some Writer's Workshop training with Jessica Rogers from Rogers Education Consulting. I wanted to share with you (with her permission) a few of my favorite tips from her training! Mostly, I want to shamelessly share with you what I have been doing wrong could be doing better.

Blame it on my OCD, but I want if I just read a book about the jungle, I want my students to reflect on and write about the jungle!! In a perfect world, students would do that. What I learned, is that my weaker students will easily write about the jungle because I most likely modeled a writing sample about a jungle and the students are simply mimicking my example. However, my STRONG students might think about a jungle, then have a chain reaction and relate it to one or more other things.

We as teachers DO NOT want to limit our students' creativity by telling them what they HAVE to write about. We need to be ENCOURAGING our students to take ownership of their writing by letting them choose their own topic.

Please don't get me wrong. I fully intend on having back up plans with writing prompts, word banks, etc. in case students get stuck or need options to choose from. I have writing prompts ready for daily writing, letter writing, how to writing and holiday themed writing {Check them out here}. BUT, I plan to tell my students "You can write about this prompt, OR you can write about anything else you feel passionate about".

You know you've done it. Well, maybe it's just me, but I've been guilty of trying to cover too much ground at one time. I think "Okay, we are going to read this book. We are going to reflect on it. We are going to talk about common themes. We are going to discuss one writing skill to focus on. The students are going to write these AMAZING writing samples based on the book. We are going to do a craft about the book." (and so on).

What I learned today was to break it down. Jessica Rogers recommended reading the book once JUST FOR ENJOYMENT. Let the kids enjoy the story and work on comprehending the text. Later (a couple of days, weeks, etc.), you can pull the same book as an example in a writing mini-lesson. There are two amazing benefits I see with this method:
#1- Students are already familiar with the book and have already made connection to the text.
#2- You can save time because you can read 1-2 pages of the book that specifically address your new writing skill instead of spending another 5-10 minutes to read the entire book. (If we want students focusing on one skill, why are we re-reading an entire text and confusing their focus?)

I am a checklist gal. I know my standards and  I know "how, when and why" my students need to be taught a specific standard. What I HAVEN'T been so great at, is informing my students of "how, when and why" they need to LEARN a specific standard. Isn't that the reason we teach? Don't we want to inspire our students to be learners for life and take control of their learning? 

My goal for this new school year is to include the "how, when and why" concepts into EVERY mini-lesson I teach this year, whether it be reading, writing, math, science, social studies, etc. 

Where Do I Start?

Need to know where to start with Writer's Workshop? 
Check this out--->

Back to Top