How does writing workshop feed the writer?

Last summer, my school launched a teacher book club. We started with a question. What happens when a group of teachers reads Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write? What we found was that some of us explored some ideas inspired by the book over the course of the school year. Our book club was also an invitation to write. Some people wrote at our meetings and others used the meeting as a launch to push themselves to grow as a writer on a more regular basis.

During the school year, in the midst of one of our staff developer days with Mary Ehrenworth, she said something that resulted in the springboard for the title of this year’s book club title, Independent Writing, by Colleen Cruz. Mary said that we should be thinking about growing lifelong writers, just like we think about growing lifelong readers. That made sense to us. So books were purchased, invitations were sent, plans were made for a summer rendezvous. Most of the original players were ready for more and we even had some newbies.

My friend Dawn invited us all over and set the agenda. There would be plenty of time for sharing our thinking and ideas from our reading as well as time to write!

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I had only read three chapters of Independent Writing prior to our first meeting, but I had plenty of ideas to mull over in response to Dawn’s first invitation: Writer about a line or an idea from Independent Writing that has you thinking and wondering.

I wrote:

Starting to read Independent Writing has me thinking about how we can make the writing process more explicit so that kids can replicate the process independently. How can we take what we are already doing and zoom in on the parts that kids can then take to their independent work, so that they are applying thinks from the workshop to their own process?

 In first grade this year, the team ended with Independent Writing Projects. Kids were all over it-engagement was high! However, there was a bit of resistance to studying the genre they chose to work in-a bit of resistance to growing. Was this because:

  1. They were so excited for the freedom?
  2. They didn’t see the value in studying and applying all they had learned from the workshop to their independent projects?

In reading the mentor text chapter, chapter three, I had some many ideas. Not about independent writing projects necessarily, but about our every day workshop work. How can we enhance that to feed and empower our writers no matter what they are writing?

We could study just our use of mentors all year:

  1. Read first for enjoyment!
  2. Learn what it means to “read like a writer.”
  3. Teach kids explicitly how to study a mentor. “Study, name, try”

As we all finished up responding to this first invitation to write during our meeting, I was eager to hear what others were thinking. People talked about past studies of authors such as Katie Wood Ray with longing and love. We grappled with Ralph Fletcher’s suggestion to step back during “Green Belt Writing” time and whether we were missing opportunities. What was it about independent writing that produced so much joy? Was it a time filled with less pressure? Less of a need to please?

Listening to the ideas of others, I kept coming back to our every day work and Mary Ehrenworth’s original push: How are we growing lifelong writers? So I’ve decided that my research question for this coming school year will be, How does workshop feed the writer?

I’m excited to see where this question will take me and the teachers and kids I work with. I’m also beyond grateful for my community. Sitting around our summer book club meeting reminded me how amazing the people I work with are. They are so dedicated to their lives as teachers and are continuously thinking about ways to give more. They give me energy.

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16 thoughts on “How does writing workshop feed the writer?

  1. I love Fletcher, Joy Write, and Cruz’s work – has your club read The Unstoppable Writing Teacher? It had a group of my teachers in tears once about “students having a subconscious need to write about certain things, although they don’t consciously know why.” I can just imagine the energy of your group and the payoff for the children. Lifelong writers … I wholeheartedly believe in this goal and cheer you on! Thank you for sharing in depth.

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  2. Fabulous question! A question we all should keep in mind! Your observations and reflections on our first meeting are inspirational! Love that writing about our meetings connects us even when we are not together! Thanks for always thinking and sharing your thinking!

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  3. What is a amazing summer book club! You work with a dedicated and passionate group of educators. The use of mentor texts also excites me. I love you 3 suggestions for studying mentor texts all year, especially “study, name, try”. Thanks for sharing! I’ll have to check out Colleen’s book! Hope you summer is off to a great start. 🙂

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  4. This is exciting. I believe that you as teachers are setting an excellent example of what it means to be a curious person and a life long learner. You are very lucky to have a team to explore questions together and support each other.

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  5. I think this is an example of what writing can do, just in a practical sense, for kids. You’re using your writing to help you reflect and look ahead. That’s not the part of writing that gets kids pumped up, but it is a feature of writing that they can use for the rest of their lives. It’s a real-life, not-just-in-school kind of writing, and that will appeal to some kids’ practical side. I think your question is great. I might take it on, too. I think the key to a really powerful workshop is building in (and supporting) the sense of choice and freedom. Joy is in actually playing the game (or riding the bike), not just learning the skills…but the skills also give you the power to succeed, and succeeding is pretty fun.

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    1. Yes! I think we have all of the pieces in play and that we can bring out the choice, freedom, and joy MORE of we try. I’m glad you’re willing to take this on. I’ll need some willing guinea pigs since I don’t have my own and it’s always nice to have company to reflect with.

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  6. “They give me energy.” I love this line from your post about your fellow participants. It reminds me of a favorite quote I’ve kept on my bulletin board for a long time. “Feeling pleasure is the first step to restoring energy.” I remember summer book clubs with fellow teachers as a wonderful way to restore energy and rejuvenate thinking over the summer.

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  7. I kept wishing someone would do this at my school. Nobody did! So I decided to be the somebody. Last summer I had everyone over to my backyard to talk about a math book. This summer we are doing a reading book, and the number of people who decided to come has doubled. We talked about that math book all year! It was so nice to have that community feeling about a book.

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  8. How does the workshop f edmthe writer? I too am thinking about strengthening myself and others as writing teachers and helping students see that just as we can all be readers, we can all be writers.

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