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.

A Collection of Social Studies Resources

My Post (3)

  • What happens when cultures collide?
  • How can I be part of the solution?
  • Are rights the same as responsibilities?
  • What influences my space and place?
  • How can data be used to tell a story?

We need more inquiry, more beautiful questions, more Problem Seekers, not just Problem Solvers.

Lately, I have been making connections between literacy and social studies. Along with refining inquiry instructional frameworks and strategies, I have begun collecting useful resources for educators. Find the list HERE

Let me know if I have forgotten any of your favorites?

New Course Offering: The Tech-Savvy Teacher

Influential educators Shaelynn Farnsworth and Steven W. Anderson introduce a course where you can find the answers to these questions and more. In partnership with Participate, explore what it means to be a Tech-Savvy Teacher.

From Shaelynn – In 2008, the district I worked in adopted a 1:1 Laptop Initiative. Through this initiative, every student and staff member in grades 9-12 were given a laptop. Students and staff members were not only able to use technology in the classroom but were able to bring their computer home with them each night. Ubiquitous technology shifted the educational landscape in our building. Along with reimagining learning, I also quickly learned that traditional and evidenced-based practices looked different in the classroom. Every day brought a new opportunity to provide my students relevant and engaging learning. It also helped me become a better educator as I analyzed and reflected upon my classroom and craft.

From Steven – When I was leading a large technology program in NC as Director of Instructional Technology we invited a group of teachers to spend an afternoon talking to us about a new Bring Your Own Device Initiative we were undertaking. What my team and I wanted to understand was what teachers believed would need to change when the devices are the smartest in the room? We thought we’d hear questions about how to teach or was to incorporate the technology more seamlessly. What we got were questions about the latest apps or websites that were flashy and fun.

Using technology today isn’t just about what app to use or what new website looks like fun. Technology use in the classroom requires a pedagogical shift from the traditional methods of teacher-driven learning to modern day student-driven discovery. Not only do educators need to understand how to choose the best technology for learning but the research behind the collaboration or student reflection or formative assessment. Once we understand the why of learning, the how, layered with appropriate use of technology, because fundamentally easier.

Steven Anderson and I are pleased to offer a new course through Participate. This course focuses on 6 Areas of Development we have identified on having a high impact on student learning and teacher professional learning when integrated with intentional technology.

Course: The Tech-Savvy Teacher

Length: 8 weeks

Cost: $79

Audience: Educators, Coaches, Administrators

Benefits:

  • Specially designed tasks blending high-impact technology with each component
  • Research supporting each of the 6 Areas of Development
  • Examples and stories from our own classrooms
  • Collaborative, reflective tasks to help you connect with other educators while engaging in low-stress, professional learning
  • Feedback from Steven and Shaelynn
  • Access to collections on the Participate Community
  • Badge upon completion of the course

We understand the needs educators and administrators have when technology is integrated into the learning environment. Our focus isn’t on the tool, it’s on the reimagining of learning and teaching. Each we week we will explore the research related to specific aspects of pedagogy and discuss what the effective integration of these tools really look like. While there will be tool and resource exploration each week, the main focus is on pedagogy and how best to be a Tech-Savvy Teacher!

Instructional Coaches: A Benefit to Schools

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In the early 1990s, there was a surge of instructional coaches in the area of literacy. From that point forward, Federal and State Initiatives have supported and encouraged schools across the country to implement support to colleagues through the use of coaches. Throughout the years, roles, titles, and job descriptions have morphed into what we have currently but the focus has remained comparatively similar to its inception: How can coaches support colleagues in pursuit of refining their practice to directly impact student achievement.

My current role allows me not only coach teachers in multiple districts, but also allows me the ability to work with and coach the coaches in the districts we serve. Because of these experiences, I believe there are 3 Ways Instructional Coaches Benefit Schools:

  1. Transfer – If you ask any educator to share the initiatives and focus areas in their building the list would be lengthy, filled with three-letter acronyms, and perhaps, attached to a SMART goal. While there are no shortages of initiatives to implement or professional learning for these initiatives, consistency in implementation and transfer into the classroom rarely happen at a systems level. In buildings with instructional coaches, I have witnessed a more systemic transfer of professional learning and initiative implementation into the classroom. Through one to one or small group coaching, educators attest to the support that coaches provide on a continuous cycle long after the initial learning is completed. Effective instructional coaches also use a variety of tools, checklist, or Innovation Configuration Maps to reflect and have conversations with colleagues on what implementation with fidelity may look like. Through these coaching cycles, support is personalized based on self-identified needs.
  2. Personalization – Instructional coaches play a support role to teachers instead of an evaluative role. Relationships and respect are forged and areas identified in which to focus efforts. Modeling and co-teaching, 2 effective strategies coaches use, are often sandwiched between a pre and post conversation. And just as every student in the classroom may have a different learning pathway to the same end goal, so to do teachers. Building Principals may be able to support staff growth on a macro level, individual growth at the micro level is achieved through utilizing instructional coaches. Personalized professional growth for every staff member at a consistent and continuous level is possible with a competent and supported instructional coach.
  3. Leadership – Finally, schools benefit when teachers have leadership roles. From helping to build consensus to identifying student and teacher needs with data, kids win in buildings with instructional coaches. Teachers are the ones doing the work in the classroom. Their actions directly impact students and it is essential to have their voices “at the table” when professional learning is planned or vision and goals are formed. Instructional coaches allow teachers to have a leadership role in buildings without having to be a principal or obtain an additional degree. It is through leadership opportunities like this that help schools retain good teachers and improve the pedagogy of all.

Instructional Coaches are continuing to support teachers and students through consistent, high-quality continuous improvement. Throughout the years we have witnessed educational trends, all in an effort to boost student achievement. Collegial support through coaching helps all schools which impacts the bottom-line, the students!

 

Resource: Denton, Carolyn A, & Hasbrouck, Jan. “A Description of Instructional Coaching and its Relationship to Consultation.” Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation. 2009.  

Beginning of the Year Laptop Expectations for the Classroom

 

Laptop Expectations for the Classroom.pngAugust signals the return to school for students and educators across the country. The beginning of the year is often filled with reconnecting with friends, building communities in the classroom, and handing out textbooks. But in some schools, students will not only receive textbooks but a new laptop or tablet to support their learning. Maximizing educational use of technology in the classroom is easier said than done. As educators, we want students to not only consume information but also create awesomeness to share with the world. What is frequently forgotten is the proper care and maintenance that accompanies student devices.

Technology is not a silver bullet for student engagement or classroom management. In fact, devices in the hands of all students amplify good teaching and magnify bad teaching. I recommend having a discussion, early in the year, on the proper care and use of student technology in the classroom. These expectations can be individual to each teacher, constructed and agreed upon as a staff or PLC, or co-constructed with the students; whichever way works best in your educational ecosystem.

In my own classroom, I learned the hard way. When my district implemented 1 to 1 in 2009 I just thought students would appreciate the opportunity of ubiquitous technology in the possession and use it with care. Around December, I realized I needed to rethink my initial thoughts and discuss with the students’ expectations of use. Together, we co-created a list that I have used and shared ever since. Feel free to use and adapt to make your own!

  1. Be Prepared – Just like you would bring your writing tool and book to class every day, you must now bring your new tool (laptop) to class each day. Make sure it is fully charged and ready to go. Although we will not use the laptop every day, we will use it frequently. If you know the application being used in class, have it already opened or immediately pull it up when you get into a class, this will help save time.
  2. Power Up – If you use photo or video editing apps the battery will be drained quicker than just typing. Same is true for streaming video or using skype. Dimming the brightness will help to preserve the battery life. Make sure to set your power display to show the percentage, this will give you a more accurate reading. When the percent reaches 5 or lower, plug in your charger to one of the designated places in the room.  Be sure to use your own charger and take it with you when done.
  3. Screens Down – Anytime I (or a classmate) am speaking, screens will be tilted down.  Nothing is more distracting to you or to others around you than someone surfing the web.  Putting the screen down will help bring attention to the task at hand.
  4. Tech-Tips – I suggest that you have a google doc/folder, document, sticky, etc. to curate skills and tips that you will learn throughout the year in all of your classes. You could also include all handouts and tutorials you receive in a specific folder. Curate videos on your YouTube Channel, or create a spreadsheet of shortcuts to remember. This reference will be useful when maximizing all programs available on your new laptop.
  5. Hands Off – If it’s not yours, keep your hands off! This is for any type of contact with another person’s laptop. When demonstrating to someone, make them manipulate the cursor. If you are the one moving the cursor on their computer they miss the hand/brain connection and will be less likely to remember what you demonstrated.
  6. Sound – All laptops will be muted unless permission is granted.  Bring headphones to listen to needed information during work time.  
  7. Camera Use – Your laptop is equipped with both a digital camera and digital video recorder.  With these tools, we will create a multitude of projects from footage and photos you take. There are expectations that the photos and videos taken are appropriate and in good taste. The subject should always be asked before an image is taken of them. Privileges of these two tools will be revoked if used inappropriately. Please refrain from taping video and snapping pictures of people without permission.
  8. Self-Management – If it is not related to the task assigned, you should not be doing it during class.  This includes email, Googling, etc. Self-Management of digital access is a lifelong skill that relates to productivity. You will not always have your mom standing behind you to stay on task, finish your homework, or complete the work assignment. Use your time wisely, take breaks when needed, and save the memes for your free time.
  9.  Power Teams – Everyone will be at different levels of expertise when using the new technology. This classroom will be one of support and understanding.  Use your peers as resources, help each other, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Tips – Location at school should be “in school” and location at home is “out of school.”  If things start acting weird on the computer, the first thing to do is restart it to see if the problem is corrected. Update when prompted to keep systems running smoothly. Double-check to see if you are signed into the correct Google Account.  
  10. Saving – You should be saving your work periodically.  Save each draft as new with a new date.  Save in the appropriate class folder to keep life and work organized.  If you would cry if something was lost, make sure to back up in other places. (gdrive, dropbox, flashdrive, etc.)Plus, if you utilize GSuite, then it is automatically saved without any action on your part.
  11. Transporting – Each time you leave a room make sure your computer is in its bag!  No exceptions! Zip bags. Do not put too much in the front pocket of your bag – it can ruin the disk drive if smashed. Be aware of the weather, do not leave in a vehicle. If you do, allow the computer to reach room temperature before turning on.

This discussion of expectations in the classroom often led to better care of the devices. It also created a platform to then dive into Digital Citizenship, Netiquette, and Copyright. While there were still broken screens throughout the year, having this discussion with students helped to create an environment that supported learning, responsibility, and respect.