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Pros & Cons of Writer’s Workshop in Elementary and Middle School – Part 1 October 10, 2009

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State Standards, Standardized Tests, and… Writer’s Workshop?

In the real world of state standards and standardized tests, it can be a little difficult for a teacher to get their head around what Writer’s Workshop is. As long as I have been teaching there has been a continuing push towards making teachers more and more accountable for student achievement.

With Writer’s Workshop teachers are accountable… but they are also asked to take a leap of faith into the world of flexibility. The teachers are asked to believe that Writer’s Workshop is the best way to get the results that EVERYONE wants for the students they teach.

In this multipart series on Writer’s Workshop you will:
• Learn what Writer’s Workshop is
• Discover how you may already be using certain aspects of Writer’s Workshop
• Learn some tips for implementing Writer’s Workshop
• Learn how to avoid some of the stress and traps of implementing Writer’s Workshop

I am a teacher… and the realities of REAL teaching in actual classrooms will always be a part of everything you will read in this series.

What is Writer’s Workshop?

Here are “the parts” of Writer’s Workshop. We will examine each of the following parts and will explore the pros, the cons, the problem areas, and the areas of benefit for each stage of Writer’s Workshop.

1. Mini-lesson – Direct instruction lasting between 5-15 minutes.
2. Status of the Class – As students begin work on their individual writing project, the teacher quickly monitors the status of each student. Where are the students in their writing and how will they be spending their writing period? (2-3 minutes)
3. Writing and Conferencing – Students write and teachers either write or conference. The teachers can conference with individual students or small groups. Teachers are encourage to spend at least some workshop time actually writing themselves in order to model what authors do. (25- 40 minutes)
4. Sharing – There are a variety of ways to share. Author’s chair, peer editing, and reading to at least one other student are popular methods. (5-10 minutes)

Using the Writing Process in Writer’s Workshop

It is important to note that the entire Writer’s Workshop process incorporates the entire Writing Process. Here is a simple version of the writing process outlined for you:

1. Prewriting
2. Drafting
3. Revising
4. Proofreading
5. Publishing

The actual writing process is not a straight line and there are other models of the writing process which more accurately reflect the TRUE writing process. This five step model is “the classic version” and one which is easy for students to grasp. Essentially, this is what students will be implementing during Writer’s Workshop. 

Using the Six Traits of Effective Writing in Writer’s Workshop

Also worth mentioning is that a natural part or integration of Writer’s Workshop is the Six Traits of Effective Writing model.

The Six Traits of Effective Writing are:
1. Ideas
2. Organization
3. Voice
4. Word Choice
5. Sentence Fluency
6. Conventions

Let’s Use More and More and More Workshops!

 How important is Writer’s Workshop to creating fantastic writers? Proponents propose that it is indispensible to creating students who can truly write. But before we go hog-wild on Writer’s Workshop here are some more workshops where the proponents propose the dire necessity of the workshop.

• Reader’s Workshop – Your students will develop independence in reading and become lifelong readers outside of the classroom. Your students will conference with peers and teachers yet the focus is always on becoming independent learners. Reader’s Workshop often becomes the favorite part of a student’s day!

• Independent Work Time (IWT) – Students must have a time each day where they work productively in groups while the teacher meets the needs of individual children. Teachers also need a time where they can challenge advanced students and give support to struggling students… and the Independent Work Time Workshop is the method you should use!

• Math Workshop – Meet the needs of your children! Boring textbooks leave behind the students who can’t keep up while too much hands-on math ensures that all your students will fall behind. We have the perfect solution. It’s “Math Workshop!” We have uniquely found the right balance!

I think you will be able to find a “workshop theory” for every single subject and every single concept that a teacher might teach.

The Truth about Writer’s Workshop

The truth about Writer’s Workshop is that teachers have used workshop strategies for years and years without a lot of the rhetoric associated with “Writer’s Workshop.”

Many workshop strategies are used across the curriculum in order to:
• differentiate instruction
• scaffold instruction
• meet student’s needs

Sometimes people get carried away with “philosophies.” Can anyone say “out of touch administrators” or “professional development guru?” It seems a lot of decision makers have not been running a classroom for a long, long time…

Personally I use many aspects of Writer’s Workshop… and… I also know I have to use my time wisely!

There is not enough time in the day for workshop after workshop and still teach the curriculum and meet state standards and prepare for the upcoming standardized test.

But… it’s great to know about all these theories and strategies so we can continue to grow as teachers!

Be sure to:
1. Check back for Part 2 of this series
2. Read “The Controversy over Writer’s Workshop in Elementary and Middle School
3. Go to the homepage and discover “Pattern Based Writing: Quick and Easy Essay.”

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