Writer’s Workshop in the High School Classroom

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Typically, the discussion around Workshop takes place against the backdrop of the elementary classroom. When I tell other educators I also used workshop in my high school classes I am inundated with endless questions… How did you do that? What curriculum did you use? How much time did you have?

First, before jumping into the weekly schedule and content I used, I always explain a few things up front.

Logistics and Important Information About My Classroom:

  • Class periods were 42 minutes and I met with the students every day for one semester.
  • I worked hard at the beginning to build a community of writers, one where students would be willing to take risks in their style and content and share with a wider audience than the traditional lone teacher.
  • All students submitted a writing portfolio at the end of the course, sharing their chosen pieces, paragraphs, lines, etc. which demonstrated mastery in standards.
  • All students were required to complete, at least, three typed-pages every week of original work or one that was heavily revised and edited.
  • Students were part of a blogging community and required to post something every other week and comment on 2 other blog posts every week. This public sharing of work provided a different audience than the traditional lone teacher and helped grow writers faster than anything else I had done throughout my writing. (This community was high school students from across the US and in 4 different classrooms.)
  • Students chose content and type of writing each week. Portfolio asked for examples in multiple types, subgenres, and media; but students had complete control over the when, what, and how during the semester.
  • Along with typical types and subgenres of writing, students also created and wrote in contemporary modes including images, videos, music, infographics, etc.
  • Every two to three weeks students turned in a “publishable piece” to be assessed.
  • Finally, I wrote with my students. I modeled my thinking, shared my pieces, and asked for feedback!  

 

I used the traditional Workshop model where I tried to keep my direct instruction at a minimum so that students could write, apply the learning, and collaborate with each other and me when needed. The following is a typical weekly schedule. During student Independent Writing time they had three options: write, collaborate with peers, collaborate with me. As long as their actions were done with intent, the climate and culture in my classroom allowed them to decide what they needed most at that moment to move them forward as a writer, and then do it!

A Simplified weekly schedule of Writer’s Workshop for a 12th-grade writing class:

MondayInspiration. Brainstorm. Share Every Monday I would take time to launch students into writing. I called this “Monday Inspiration”. There were many methods I used to get kids excited about writing. Students were inspired by a mentor text, video, image, or other types of communication. I would pose a question or prompt to contemplate and write about. Students would take part in an inspiring writing activity that typically had them developing lists, sketching, moving, and so forth. All inspiration and accompanying thinking were recorded in their digital Writer’s Notebook section we labeled, Writing Territories, a term from Nancy Atwell. After the 10 to 15 minute inspiration, students would continue to brainstorm and write about the topic or in the genre at hand. This beginning may be something that they continue to develop throughout the week, or remain in their Writing Territories to call upon if they “don’t know what to write about.” At the very end of the class period, I would make sure to leave time to share. I learned early on, students loved sharing their thoughts, writing, and ideas on Monday after the inspiring start. The sharing was sometimes done as a whole class or in a small group.

TuesdayIndependent Writing. Peer Collaboration. Small Group. 1 on 1  On Tuesday, students were writing or creating independently on a piece of their choice. While they could continue the piece they started on Monday, students in my classroom always had a choice in Type and content of their writing. During this time, I worked with small groups, to teach a skill, reinforce something previously learned, or meet individual needs, collectively. I also had time to meet with a few students 1 on 1. This allowed me to know them as writers, address specific needs that either they or I identified, and to just do a check-in on their process. Along with working independently, or meeting with me, students also had the option to work with a partner or small group. During a writer’s workshop, students are at multiple points in the writing process. Some continued pieces week to week, others may just be in the beginning stages; students would revise, edit, and provide feedback to each other and their “virtual classmates” in the blogging community based on their needs as a writer.

Wednesday Language Study. Independent Writing. Portfolio. Blog. On Wednesdays, the class period began with a lesson over grammar, usage, or mechanics. Teaching grammar in isolation does not lead to use in writing. With this in mind, I used student writing, identify common errors made by the class and this is where I would focus my teaching. After the lesson, students continue to write or work with peers. Wednesday was also time for students to work on their writing portfolio, a collection of their best examples and reflections throughout the year and aligned to the standards or teaching goals. Students could also add a new post to their blogs or leave a comment on another student blog from our community.  

Thursday –  Independent Writing. Revising. Editing. Small Groups. 1 on 1. Thursday was spent much like Tuesday. Students chose how they spent their time based on their writing needs. Some worked independently, others worked with a partner or small group. During the revising and editing stages, students used a variety of strategies to accomplish their goals. These strategies were taught via whole class and small groups. They also prepared for Friday, making sure they had something of substance to share the following day. I spent my time working one on one with students, teaching specific techniques that would move them forward as writers.  

FridaySharing with Feedback. Fridays were typically spent sharing writing. To help build a community of growth, we started off sharing in small groups of 3 using the PQP strategy (Praise, Question, Polish by Bill Lyons). This allows the writer to receive the specific feedback needed. Another method used was Go, Fish, a whole class strategy that allowed every writer to give and receive feedback. An Author’s Spotlight was used to highlight individuals and often included multiple pieces by 2 or 3 writers. Important things about students sharing their writing: Everyone shared what they wanted to with the rest of the class, feedback was specific (more strategies were taught for this) and used to move everyone forward, finally, sharing their writing honored the process and provided a different audience than the traditional lone teacher.

It is possible to use a workshop framework in a high school classroom. In fact, I cannot imagine teaching writing a different way. Students had a choice in content and writing type. They also shared their work with classmates and to a larger, public audience. Students were writing for real, not just writing for school, and created in multiple mediums to communicate their voice through video, text, visuals, and more. And although this post shared a basic structure, I hope that it provided you with enough information to see the possibilities when considering how to structure a writer’s workshop in your own classroom.

Measuring Up: 6 Focus Areas for Blended Curriculum Assessment

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It is true, not all curriculum is created equal. There are specific things I look for when reviewing a curriculum to make the best decisions for kids and teachers. So when my friends at We Are Teachers asked me to take a look at, Measuring Up, a blended curriculum for grades 2-8, I was eager to check it out and provide feedback.

This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and Mastery Education. All opinions expressed are my own. (Meaning, if I don’t like something about a particular education product I will not write about it on my blog)

I immediately recognized many positives while reading through the sample curriculum:

  • Concepts connected by what students will learn; to what they may already know; to real-world examples.
  • Academic vocabulary in context.
  • Scaffolded learning with guided instruction and gradual release of responsibility.
  • Apply learning independently.

Along with the previous list, two things stuck out to me about Measuring Up that I appreciate as a professional. First, the instruction is done by the expert classroom teacher, not the computer; and second, the Measuring Up Live 2.0 version aligned with my view on student-learning and assessment which they have streamlined through the use of computer applications.

6 Focus Areas for Blended Curriculum Assessment:

  1. Practice – Whether it is a high-stakes test or a certification exam; assessment practices are shifting from paper and pencil to an online version for a variety of reason (costs, access, data disaggregation, etc.) When students have little to no practice or frame of reference to online testing, anxiety rises and results are impacted. Blended curriculum should contain both digital and analog assessment options, as well as multiple types of assessment students,  can take in both a low-stake and high-stakes environment.  
  2. Cognitive Demand – If students have limited interaction and touches on devices when it comes to testing, all of their cognitive energy is wasted on how to manipulate the computer instead of answering the questions. Cognitive energy is best used for thinking critically and demonstrating understanding. From drag and drop to typing extended answers, when students have little access to the types of computer assessments they will take in their schooling and life, cognitive demands are misplaced on basic computer skills.
  3. Adaptive – When evaluating curriculum, edtech options for assessment should include adaptive measures, meaning, the test is sensitive to the answers the student provides and modifications are made based on answers. This ensures that the just right measures are used to gauge what the student knows and what they are not understanding.
  4. Feedback – Feedback is another area I explore when looking at assessment provided by curriculum with blended components. Feedback could come in the form of immediate grading, but could also provide extensions and reinforcement. All of these provides students with an understanding of what they have mastered and what additional support they can access to continue refining their learning.
  5. Mastery and Goal Setting – Curriculum that provides assessment should be aligned to the standards and instruction. It should provide a clear picture as to which skills and standards the students have mastered, what they have left to master and provide a direction on how to move forward. Measuring up provides students and teachers this information, as well as a way for students to set their own learning goals.
  6. Informs Instruction – FInally, data collected is useless unless it is used to inform instruction. Along with providing formative and summative student information, an assessment done via technology streamlines the process of accessing, disaggregating, and changing instruction to best meet students’ needs.

Curriculum cycles are a part of every district I have worked with over the past 10 years. Making the most informed purchasing decisions helps educators in their instruction and assessment of students. While all companies and curriculum writers provide unique frameworks or specialty components, be sure that any curriculum claiming to be blended places value in the professional and contains a comprehensive assessment system, similar to that of Measuring Up,  with a focus on the 6 areas above.