Tag Archives: Writing Workshop

Teaching Writing in High School: Reflections from TCRWP Workshop

More than twenty years ago I spent my summer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshops for teaching reading and teaching writing. My teachers, Katherine Bomer, Pam Allyn, Isoke Nia, and Lucy Caulkins left an indelible impact on my teaching over the course of two decades. My classrooms still is still guided by Reading and Writing Workshop.

Earlier this month I attended a three day summit with #TCRWP on teaching writing in the high school. Interestingly, in all my years teaching and working with TC, reading and writing workshop was for K-8 and it was enlightening to be working among high school teachers to see the possibilities of bringing this model of teaching into high school. This particular workshop focused on teaching memoir and narrative writing in high school. Despite being geared towards high school, many of the ideas and texts presented in the workshop are adaptable across grade levels.

Let’s start: “Writing is hard and the hardest part is getting started.”

Why start with narrative and memoir?

  1. When students tell their stories we are building relationships (culturally relevant teaching)
  2. We teach storytelling with passion and grace we help students make meaning from life

Launching memoir and getting students ready to begin writing is “having the courage to tell your own stories.”

We began with listening and viewing Renee Watson’s “This Body,” a poem from her book Watch Us Rise.

We started with the video, rather than a dense text as a mentor text to provide an accessible text for our students to discuss and write off of. One way to get started as a writers is getting inspired by other writers. Teachers can help students begin memoir by writing poems and vignettes.

Writers need time to write, lots of mentor texts, choice, and responses from a community of writers. One great move that my workshop leader showed was not to just provide one mentor text, but she actually offered us a Padlet with multiple mentor texts and had each of us pick one to read and study it and record the writing moves we noticed the writer using. What moves dis this writer make that inspired me? We use mentor texts to move our writing forward. After reading and discussing the mentor text students are able to build a vision how their own memoir can go based on the study of the mentor text.

Within the memoir lessons we were talking and thinking about what our memoir is really tell us? We focused and wrote around issues (Is there an issue hiding in a story that is big in your life?, change (Is there a critical change that happens in the story that means something to you?), and identity/relationship (Does the story arise a question about your relationship or identity?). We stretched our writing by talking and creating time lines. We also created some storyboard and story maps, and creating our own story arcs. We even used poetry to elevate our writing. We wrote poems off scenes in our memoirs to think deeper about our piece and place that we think needs more clarity or imagery.

Teaching students to write memoir can be a powerful start to the school year and launching of writing workshop. Memoir and narrative helps to celebrate the diverse voices in your classroom and provide choice and agency. By modeling our own stories and writing alongside our students, they can come to learn that their stories matter.

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Supporting Writers in Blended Learning Environments

In Chapter Three of my book New Realms for Writing (ISTE, 2019) I spend time addressing teaching essay writing. In the beginning of the chapter I write, “Essay writing is the foundation of secondary school. As much as I desire to focus on creative writing and diverse formats in my classroom, that is not the reality. My students are still working on literary essays throughout their schooling;  learning and writing  in a format that exists across content subjects, standardized tests, and throughout college.  Students learn the five paragraph essay in order to articulate their thinking about their reading and showcase their understanding. How does one help students to do just that, while at the same time show original thinking about their reading, include textual evidence, maintain voice and individuality? Word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, models and mentor texts, discussions, and scaffolds.”

State tests might be on hold during the pandemic but helping students with essay writing in a blended learning environment has not wavered. My students continue to write essays as well as creative writing pieces but the essay itself is like climbing Mt Kilimanjaro for many of my 8th graders. Whether it is formulating a thesis or claim or finding the strongest pieces of evidence to support their claims or thesis, writing an essay can be an arduous task. The more my students write and the more opportunities they have to practice collecting evidence and writing, they will grow as writers.

This year I created a guide book on Bookcreator.com for students to access written and video instructions, graphic organizers on how to tackle each part of the essay. Think of it like a collection of Flipped lesson on essay writing. You can view the book HERE.

Graphic organizers are great tools to help support student writing. When I create a graphic organizer I am thinking about where the students are at and what necessary scaffolds are needed to help them accomplish the writing task. In this graphic organizer students organize information about their reading — it helps students articulate their understanding and show the relationships between their thinking about a theme in the text. Some of my students might need a more modified organizer depending on their needs and accommodations. In this modified version of the graphic organizer I provide students with an evidence bank and adjust the essay format to three paragraphs versus a 4-5 paragraph essay. In addition to providing class time for students to write their essays and freeing up lessons on the writing process, I held writing conferences daily during class time, lunch time and after school.

Throughout the week I organized daily writing conferences with students. During the 6 minute conference time I would start by asking students “How’s it Going” — yes, this a line from Carl Anderson — a great lead into the conference. Then, I would ask students how I could help them, where they had questions or concerns. During the conference a student might read aloud their writing to me, ask me to read aloud a paragraph or help them to structure the conclusion without saying the same thing over and over again. This one-on-one time with students was beneficial for me because I was able to collect data on them as a writer and add notes in Powerschool. Writing conferences were beneficial the students because they were getting guidance and recommendations to make their writing stronger. Many students also worked with their peers for editing and feedback.

Writing is a life long skill. The more writing we allow students to do in our classroom, the stronger writers they become. Providing students with models, mentors, graphic organizers, sentence starters, and opportunities for revisions helps them grow and develop not only their writing skills, while at the same time build vocabulary, grammar, and language awareness when writing for academic purposes.

How do you support your students as writing to provide opportunities for growth? What are the writing lessons that you have found ageless in a blended learning environment? Share your ideas in the comments section of this blog.

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Flipped Writing Instruction

This week I had to be out of the classroom for meetings and I wanted to make sure my students had productive writing workshop to begin working on literary essays. I decided to make screencasts to review the elements of essay writing: introductory paragraphs, building better body paragraphs, and writing a conclusion. Using Screencast-O-Matic, a free screen recording program, I recorded my mini lesson to go along with each slide deck covering the elements of and essay. These screen recording were to help my students begin writing their Multi-Paragraph Outline for their literary essay.

Dana Johansen and Sonja Cherry-Paul wrote the book Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach (Heinemann, 2016) describing how students can access instruction independently, in small groups, and at home through flipped learning.  Johansen and Cherry-Paul write,

“Flipped learning is a blended approach to instruction. Catlin R. Tucker (2012) defines blended learning as a hybrid style in which educators “combine traditional face-to-face instruction with an online component” (11). Teachers “flip” lessons online so students can access them at school or at home and work at their own pace. Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams (2012), leaders of the flipped learning movement, state that “time is freed up to explore and discover concepts in an inquiry-based fashion” (46). Troy Cockrum (2014) says educators can use flipped learning to transform their learning environment. As with other teaching methods, flipped learning can play a central or a minor role in your writing workshop.”

With the ideas presented in the book fresh in my mind, I took my slide deck that I would have presented in my classroom as a large class lesson and screen-casted each lesson –recorded my voice thinking aloud through the elements of the essay. By screen casting my lesson and posting them in Google Classroom, my students can reference the videos when they get stuck writing. The notes that my students take from the flipped lesson go into their Interactive English Notebooks to help students to learn strategies like six ways to start an essay. The videos let students manage their own writing workshop time, work at their own pace, and return to key elements of essay writing throughout the school year.

Check out the three videos I have made so far. I can see myself creating a few others to touch upon leading in and leading out of textual evidence and formulating a claim.

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