Monday, 13 June 2016

Student Engagement in Writing and Reading Workshop

This is the second in a series of blog posts about different strategies I use to help my students take ownership of their learning. The first post was about class meetingsToday's post is about giving kids opportunities to determine their own writing and reading plans every Friday afternoon. (Coming soon is the third post in this series about allowing kids to extend an afternoon of planning into an entire day!)

This year our school implemented the Lucy Calkins' units of writing. Next year we will be doing the reading units. Although I have been doing reading and writing workshop for a long time, this is the first year where I felt my students had less choice, rather than more choice, in their writing. And, choice is one of the untouchables of a workshop approach to teaching anything, as well as an important element towards getting kids to take ownership of their learning. 

Of course, it's not that my students had no choice at all, but their choices were certainly much more limited than in previous years. In fact, I noticed that my students would groan when it was time for writing workshop. Although, I have encountered students who didn't like to write, I have never experienced such a resounding rejection of writing workshop as this school year. 

So, I decided to do something about it. 

I told my students that on Fridays they would be able to choose their writing and reading projects. This change had little impact on reading since kids have choice and control over their independent reading and most of them are usually focused on what they're reading. Not true for writing. So, no matter what the current writing unit was at the time, the kids could choose to write outside of that unit on Fridays. 

What happened from that moment on confirmed the importance of continuing to give kids a say in their learning. 

When Friday rolled around the kids invariably chose to write first! And, that is still the case several months later. After witnessing this phenomenon a few times, I asked the kids why they were selecting to write first when in the past, every time I announced it was writing workshop time there would be a collective groan? Of course, their response was that now they had a choice in what they could work on and they loved that. During this choice time, I was still able to confer with students one-on-one about what they were interested in writing or reading

Some readers of this blog may be thinking: "Yes, they were happy because now they could choose what to write about. All kids are happy when they can choose." OK. And, what is wrong with that? Aren't adults happy when we can choose our projects or the focus of our work? Aren't we more likely to learn when we can determine the topic(s) of our professional learning? Why is that wrong? 

One pair of students worked on a story together that is almost finished. They even solicited submissions from the class for an illustrator for their book. They are now working on inserting the pictures in the right places in their story. Their ultimate goal is to make several print copies of their book. And, in fact, all of the children wrote stories and shared them with their classmates.

From that moment on, Friday afternoon choice time was sacred in our class. Students learned how to manage their time, when to work alone and when to work with a classmate, and what project they wanted to spend their time on. 

This experiment was so successful that I decided to extend into a full day of planning. Stay tuned for the next post in this series.

If you have given up more ownership of writing and reading to students, I would love to hear what you have done. Share it here! 





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