Writing Workshops for the Classroom

Getting feedback on schoolwork is an essential part of how students learn, but the current method for students receiving this feedback only from their teachers holds students back. Too often students turn in work to a teacher for a grade and then immediately move on to the next big assignment, without giving the project much thought after the due date. Additionally, teachers spend a lot of time evaluating student work, but many students barely glance at the feedback, let alone rework projects based on this feedback to try to improve them. This creates a cycle that can be frustrating for everyone, and it certainly isn’t the most effective way to learn or teach. Perhaps it’s time to try a different model like writing workshops.

Writing workshopsStudent workshopping takes more time than the previous grading method, but it also gives students more ownership over the quality of their work because it shows that they can learn from other students as much as the teacher, and that their work can always improve. Read on for the answers to some common questions about writing workshops in the classroom.

What are writing workshops?
Students learn to write through writing, so accordingly, the bulk of a writing workshop will consist of the writing itself. A writing workshop is a block of time set aside in the school day to focus exclusively on the writing process. They can take various forms, but the basic components are always the same. In most cases, the workshop will start with a mini-lesson teaching a particular skill or concept. This is followed by a much larger block of time devoted to writing and conferring, as well as a closing activity that allows students to share their writing with the group.

Why are workshops important?
Workshops allow students time to work through the entire writing process, from first drafts to revision to final published pieces, with feedback every step of the way. Studies show that if students are not engaged in writing at least four days a week, for a period of thirty-five to forty minutes each day, they will have little opportunity to learn to think through the medium of writing. Simply put, in order to allow students the room to learn to write, they need to be given the time.

When should I use workshops? Writing workshops
Writing workshops should be held during a consistent, structured, uninterrupted block of time where students can concentrate solely on the writing process. Some teachers prefer to schedule the workshop just before or after a reading workshop to provide an extended literacy block. In this way, a teacher can take advantage of the reading and writing connection by extending and transferring the skills and concepts learned in one workshop to the other.

How are workshops run? 
The keys to a good writing workshop include scheduling it regularly so that students know that they will have a given amount of time to develop their pieces. Some assume that a highly creative, ever-changing environment is necessary to stimulate young writers, but the opposite is actually true. Studies show that children thrive when they can depend on a set structure within which they can work.

As far as workshop materials, you may want to consider a writer’s notebook for each student, which is a place for students to collect thoughts, ideas, questions, and brainstorms from which longer pieces will grow. It is a place to experiment and make mistakes. Beyond that, you shouldn’t need much more than a pen or pencil. 

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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