My first workshop.

Alternative title:  How the heck did I pull this off?

A full-press writing workshop is completely new to me.  It was hard for me.

I’ve always been the teacher who forces the planner, who has firm deadlines for homework, and firm due dates for final drafts.

Letting my students spend a period staring into space was one of the hardest exercises in self control I’ve ever completed, and I really had no idea how it would all turn out.

Day One:
The day I handed out my students’ first writing task, I kept telling myself to just back up, shut up, and back off.  image2

I passed out the assignment, passed out the planner, and told them to attack it in whatever way they wanted to.

I told them that they could use the planner, but didn’t have to.  Most did.

(They were so confused.  Most of them had me as a teacher freshman year, and I always forced them to use the planner.)

I told them they could read over their journals for ideas, that they could list, doodle, and could even take a break and read their choice book while they thought.

At the end of each period, some students had started drafting.  Some were staring into space.  Some were reading.  In my last period of the day, almost nobody had started, and I was a little worried about whether or not this was actually going to work.

Day Two:
After book talks and reading, I told my students that I wanted them to have a draft done and photoimage4copied by the end of the class period, calling it “the world’s roughest draft.”

On this day, I wrote my piece next to them.  Seriously:  the second I sat down and started to write, I understood the staring and doodling and thinking.  This prompt was HARD.

I decided to adapt one of my quickwrites from earlier that week, and I told them so.  I shared my first sentences, and my ideas.  When I was struggling, I told them I was struggling, and asked for input.

Some wanted to type instead.  “Okay,” I said.  (Before I would have forced them to handwrite.  Because I said so.)

By some insane miracle, yesterday’s starers and readers had ideas. Suddenly, (almost) everyone was writing.

image5

My desk as I wrote next to my students on the second work day.

By the end of this period, most had finished their first drafts.  Those who were still working took their notebooks home and photocopied what they had during the next class, even if they weren’t finished.  Some were still staring.

Day Three: 
When they walked in, I could tell that my students were nervous to pass around their writing.  We sat in a circle, just like we did on the first day of school.  I created rules and norms for them to follow, and the maintained their anonymity by keeping underlined essaynames out of their pieces.

To start, we corrected spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  We read lines they loved out loud to the whole group.  It was awesome.  Compliments in the form of well-written and beautiful lines were all over the place.

After that, we took Post-Its to the photocopies, adding questions for our others to expand upon on their final draft.

Some students still showed up without a draft, so they sat in the back of the room and wrote, but missed the first opportunity to workshop.  Can’t win ’em all.

adam writing

I also used to force them to write in desks instead of laying across on multiple bean bags the floor. Who am I?

Days Four/Five:
We (because I did it, too) spent the next two class periods revising from handwritten drafts.  Some finished on the first day and spent the next day re-reading their piece for final edits, and some read their choice novels or just wrote in their journals.

They printed their typed drafts (still nameless and anonymous) and we eased into our final workshop day.

Graded rubrics

I’ve never seen such detailed student-to-student feedback.

Day Six:
During our last workshop, we worked with the rubric. At this point, everyone had a piece to bring to the group.  We again read the lines that we loved out loud to the class, and then, together, commented on each category of the rubric.

Since I wrote alongside my students, I also sent my piece around the circle to be workshopped.  We still stayed anonymous, so my students never knew which piece was mine.

We talked about the importance of separating our feelings from our grades, and that we had to be honest in regards to our feedback, even if it didn’t feel good to give “bad” grades.

Our final day
Our final day was devoted to revision, and the final pieces I have read so far are so much better than I had anticipated after reading the rough-rough drafts.

I'm feeling pretty good about this shift towards writing, and not just because I got a good grade on my paper.

I’m feeling pretty good about this shift towards writing instruction, and not just because I got a good grade on my paper.

I realized that I only spent seven class periods with a full-press writing workshop, which is less time than I would have spent if I approached writing tasks in a more traditional way last year.

I can’t believe it worked.

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