Authenticity and autonomy are at the heart of Writing Workshop classrooms. Writing Workshop teachers design classrooms, units of study, and lessons that support authentic writing experiences for students and provide guidance and support for student autonomy.
As decades of research supports, Writing Workshop classrooms prepare diverse students for success in reading and writing. Students in writing workshop classrooms engage in intellectual, challenging, and rewarding work. The benefits of the Workshop teaching do not stop at the highest end of the rubric or with the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s.
The authenticity and autonomy of Writing Workshop classrooms affect much more than even the incredibly important skills of effective writing.
Writing Workshop work is also healthy work for teachers, students, and community.
Over the last year and a half, I have lead on-going professional development in the teaching of writing in Bastrop, which includes the Choice and Voice team in our LRNG grant-funded project. Day after day, through this work, I witness the range of benefits of Writing Workshop work.
Developing the skills and practices of a Writing Workshop teacher is on-going, deep work that builds leadership capacity among teachers who strengthen their autonomy and professionalism, using their experience, knowledge of their students, and deep research to guide their teaching.
Bastrop teachers have engaged in book studies and in discussions around research articles about the teaching of writing. They have read vibrant children’s literature, been inspired by the craft and picked out pieces of texts to magnify for students’ study.
They have shared their students’ writing with each other, admired it, appreciated its brilliance and given and sought advice about where to go next with their teaching.
When students engage in authentic writing experiences and build their autonomy as writers, they develop their social awareness and relationship skills as they engage in a writing community and take on the work of authors, crafting text for authentic audiences. Students in writing workshop classrooms grow their abilities to self-manage and make decisions as they choose topics about which to write and use the resources around them such as their teacher, their peers, and published texts, to support their work. These Social Emotional skills, current brain research tells us, are essential for learning.
Over the last 15+months, I have seen 2nd graders make the choice of which seat and space will best support their work habits. Kindergartners have leaned in to hear a friend’s story and examine the drawings and labels on the page. First graders have made books inspired by their favorite authors. Fourth graders have revised sentences, keeping both craft and conventions, purpose as well as audience, in mind. Third graders have read their poems aloud to eager ears in public spaces and reflected, “When I hear other students read their writing, I feel more confident about reading mine.”
We know that strong home-school partnerships benefit students’ learning and future success in school. We also know, from research and experience, that some attempts at authentic home-school partnerships fall short of our goals to support students’ academic growth. Writing Workshop teachers who adopt an additive perspective of families provide students the opportunity to write about the topics that are closest to their hearts, cultures, languages, lives. When students publish their work for their peers and family, they build deep connections between home and school.
Bastrop students have written about feeling alone, BMX bikes, fishing, a father losing a job or a family gaining a member. Bastrop families have come to read their children’s writing, seen their faces in the drawings, and written messages to support continued motivation and craft.
Community support for our public schools is as important today as ever. When school and community leaders come together, they find ways to support students and families through sharing resources and information about local events and organizations. They find ways to share the strengths of our schools and our teachers.
The Bastrop Library, Chamber of Commerce, Parks and Recreation, art museum and local businesses have invited students to display and share their writing in community spaces. They have given students access to a wider audience and, in turn, received new visitors, community members who were previously unaware of these spaces.
Both inside and outside our schools, disparities in access to digital tools are growing. Authentic integration of digital technologies in the curriculum prepares students with skills for future opportunities. In addition, using digital technologies in safe spaces to connect students’ voices with broad audiences provides opportunities for students to become responsible digital citizens. Writing Workshop classrooms, where students are writing for audiences other than just the teacher, provide the space for authentic integration where students engage as producers, rather than mere consumers, of meaning.
Writing Workshop teachers in Bastrop are using digital tools to help students reach broader audiences. As a part of our Choice and Voice LRNG grant work, we will be using edu.buncee.com, a user-friendly, multi-media presentation tool to publish students’ work. Next week, Shirley Miller’s kindergartners from Bluebonnet Elementary will publish their drawings and writing at a local favorite, Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Company. Each piece will have it’s own QR code so that readers can hear students’ voices reading their words.
Writing Workshop teachers, schools, districts, and communities benefit intellectually, socially, and emotionally from the authenticity and autonomy these structures provide. But, just as in any instance of true change, Writing Workshop is not a crash diet or a quick fix. Creating and sustaining healthy habits takes dedication and commitment over time. Bastrop ISD is just beginning to see the fruits of their efforts. I look forward to seeing and sharing more instances of teachers, students, families, and community stretching their minds and building their strengths in the months ahead. Stay tuned for more in the weeks to come!