Writing workshop can transform your classroom! Sounds magical, doesn’t it? I believe it’s true — and here is why:
1. Real Writers & Real Work
Often students feel like they write something, it gets corrected, and…end of process. In a workshop, students grapple with the entire writing process: revision, determining what they really want to say, clarifying ideas, and improving how they communicate. Writing is more than meeting a deadline or producing a certain amount of words.
In a workshop setting, students are working like real writers — they choose, design, and craft their topics.
2. Provides Real Differentiation
In a workshop-style class, students have choices that meet their needs as learners. Students can (to a certain extent) work at their own pace. They can focus on areas they need to strengthen. For example, you may have students who have no problem coming up with what they want to write about, but they struggle with organizing thoughts. In the same class, you may have students who have no idea what to write about. In a workshop, students can focus on what they need because you, as the teacher, can work with individual students rather than teach the whole class a concept that some may need and others don’t.
3. Building Relationships
You will build relationships with your students because you will be more available to them. In a writing workshop, you’ll either rotate around the room (I call it “drag a chair” because…well…that’s what I do. Drag a chair from student to student!) or set up conference appointments with your students. Whether you are working with them one-on-one or in small groups, you’ll be having direct interaction with students as you guide them through the writing process. As a result, you’ll learn more about them as people…and they’ll learn about you — that you truly care about them as individuals.
4. Learning the Craft
Writing is a skill that can be learned, improved, and strengthened through practice, concentration, and dedication.I am a big fan of what Cal Newport calls the craftsman mindset. Basically, this refers working on something as a craft — a skill that can be learned, improved, and strengthened through practice, concentration, and dedication. When we treat writing as a real skill — with a craftsman mindset — we take a lot of they mystery out of writing. Just like a student could learn how to change a spark plug, make a souffle, or groom a dog, students can learn how to write.
That leads to the next point:
5. Empower your Students
A workshop that focuses on helping students develop their writing skills gives power back to students. How often have you heard students say, “I don’t know what she wants,” or “I’ll just write what she tells me to write”? Students are playing the “What does the teacher want” game rather than truly improving their writing skills! When we teach using a workshop model, the focus returns to the student and what the student needs to improve his or her writing skills.
6. Seeing Growth
All writing instruction should allows for self reflection and self assessment. Every time my students finish a writing assignment, I have them fill out a self assessment. Additionally, it is so helpful for students to look over their portfolios or past writing periodically. This can be a real boost for students when they can see improvement in their writing over the course of a grading period.
7. Values the Process
Writing workshop values the writing process — and really teaches it. Rather than assigning a “how to” essay that’s due on Friday, the workshop model will guide students through examining ideas, organizing thoughts, drafting, revising, proofreading, writing introductions, conclusions, etc.
8. Reduces Plagiarism
It is such a temptation for students to plagiarize — and it’s so easy! Why do they do it? In many cases, students are desperate! The paper is due, and they haven’t written it! In a workshop, not only do you have the opportunity to meet with students and discuss their progress, you are also in the loop with their prewriting and drafts. When you’re aware of your students’ progress on a project and the topic they are writing about, you’ll recognize their authentic work, plus you’ll be able to make sure they are making progress.
Writing workshop is exciting! As teachers, we love to see our students learning, growing, grappling with difficult concepts and working them out — this is what happens in writing workshop.
10. Guide on the Side vs Sage on the Stage
When you have a workshop style class, the teacher the “guide on the side” not the “sage on the stage.” The ones who are doing the work are the ones who are learning!! And you should never be working harder than your students!
11. No “Program” Needed
This is probably one of the things I love best (although, I do love all of these reasons best…) Writing workshop isn’t a “program.” It’s a format not a formula. It isn’t a gimmicky way to teach writing that will only apply to testing or one grade level.
It’s simply providing students with the tools they need to practice their craft of writing. And when students learn the tools, they will be able to take them along with them as they grow as writers.
That means you can adapt a workshop to any writing topic — from writing about literature to a research paper. Trust your own writing skills and instincts, determine what you want your students to achieve, use your standards and jump on in!!
So, what do you think? Add a comment below if you have another reason that I haven’t mentioned or have reservations for using writing workshop — and here’s to building the craft of writing!