Blogstitute 2016: The Role of Reflection in Writing Workshop

July 5th, 2016

Diane Dougherty and Lynne Dorfman

Diane Dougherty and Lynne Dorfman

Our Blogstitute 2016 series continues today with a post by Lynne Dorfman and Diane Dougherty, authors of Grammar Matters and Getting Into Grammar. Follow along as they explore the role of reflection in writing workshop and how it can help create self-motivated, self-confident writers. “Reflection is just as important as modeling and practice. When student writers think about what they know for sure, when they apply what they tried out in writing today to other pieces they may have already written or may be thinking about writing in the future, the strategy becomes their own. They are more likely to use it again and again.”

Be sure to comment or Tweet about this post and others in our summer series for a chance to win all 10 of our new fall titles!

The Role of Reflection in Writing Workshop
by Lynne R. Dorfman and Diane E. Dougherty

“Can you read this and tell me if it’s good?”

“Did I do this right?”

“Is this what you want?”

“Is this how you spell that word?”

Questions such as these are disheartening. We want our students to be confident readers and writers. We understand that lifelong learning requires self-motivation, self-confidence, and self-knowledge. Yet, either because students perceive that they don’t have these qualities or because they have been “trained” to look to the teacher as the final authority, many of them still ask for our approval whenever they take a risk. Or, even worse, some students are wary of taking risks at all. Afraid of failure, they stick to what they already know works for them. As their teachers, we have a responsibility to move them toward independence and confidence in themselves.

We believe that self-discipline can become a habit, a habit that teachers can help students develop. Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business, tells his readers that “self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic performance than does intellectual talent.” It is a better indicator than IQ. We need to believe that change is possible for our students, and we need to make that change real. One vehicle for doing this is to make reflection a part of our daily classroom routine. Just as we engage in reflection on our own practices, we expect our students to reflect on what they know, what they can do well, and what they perceive as areas that need improvement.

In Mentor Texts, Nonfiction Mentor Texts, and Poetry Mentor Texts (Dorfman and Cappelli), as well as Grammar Matters: Lessons, Tips, and Conversations Using Mentor Texts (Dorfman and Dougherty), the Your Turn Lesson format emphasizes the gradual release of responsibility model. We begin with a hook (usually a mentor text) followed by an explicit statement of purpose: Writers, today I am going to show you . . . Next, we brainstorm applications of the lesson in action. For example, if the lesson is about prepositions, students brainstorm a list of prepositions they know or may remember from the mentor text reading. Then, we model using our own writing/thinking, sharing our process with the student writers. This is followed by shared/guided writing, where the student writers try out the strategy together. After all of these steps, students engage in independent writing. Always, we end with reflection. We ask student writers to think about what they now know, how they used the strategy, and/or when they might use this strategy again. Reflection is just as important as modeling and practice. When student writers think about what they know for sure, when they apply what they tried out in writing today to other pieces they may have already written or may be thinking about writing in the future, the strategy becomes their own. They are more likely to use it again and again.

Consider this Your Turn Lesson from Grammar Matters on the topic of prepositions and the prepositional phrase (available as a video lesson in Getting into Grammar [2015]. This video also includes a lesson on paragraphing in narrative as well as conversations with teachers who conduct writing workshop in their classrooms every day.):

Teaching prepositions and the prepositional phrase gives student writers a way to add sentence variety to their pieces. Students need to understand the prepositional phrase and its usefulness in writing.

Hook: Read Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins to the class. This delightful book is filled with prepositional phrases on each page as Rosie the hen goes for a walk around the barnyard, not knowing that a fox is following her. Children love the illustrations and the fact that the fox is foiled at every turn. Read it for enjoyment. Then point out the prepositional phrases. Follow up with a reading of Behind the Mask by Ruth Heller or If You Were a Preposition by Nancy Loewen.

Purpose: Writers, today I am going to show you how you can use prepositions and prepositional phrases to add variety to your sentences. We are going to practice moving prepositional phrases around in the sentences we write.

Brainstorm: Ask students to brainstorm the job of a preposition using the information from the book If You Were a Preposition. Their list should include the following:

  • Prepositions make sentences longer by adding more detail.
  • Prepositions tell where things are.
  • Prepositions tell when things happen.
  • Prepositions never work alone. They are always part of a prepositional phrase.

In advance, prepare three-by-five-inch cards by writing one preposition on each card. Distribute them to the class so that each student has one card. Pair students with a partner. Together they can decide which of the prepositions to “act out” for the class. As the student pairs demonstrate the prepositions through role play, ask the class to state the preposition and the prepositional phrase, naming the object of the preposition each time. You may need to explain that the object of the preposition is the noun in the phrase. For example, Jordan and Gia walked around the desk. The preposition is around and the phrase is “around the desk.” The object of the preposition is desk. When Skye and Ashley acted out down, they sat down. That was the perfect opportunity to show that down in the sentence “They sat down” is not a preposition because prepositions never work alone. They are always part of a phrase and take an object.

Model: Use the prepositions on the three-by-five cards to write sentences that include prepositional phrases. Show students how the phrases can be positioned in the sentence and how prepositional phrases can be linked together.

For example:

By the side of the road I noticed an old bicycle with broken wheels.

I noticed an old bicycle with broken wheels by the side of the road.

I noticed, by the side of the road, an old bicycle with broken wheels.

Shared/Guided Writing:  Ask students to use the prepositions on their cards to create sentences and to play with the placement of the phrases in the sentence. They may work in pairs or individually. Display their sentences on a classroom anchor chart and let the students discuss which sentences “sound” best. Sometimes prepositional phrases can’t easily be moved within a given sentence, and student writers need to know how moving phrases can affect meaning.

For example:

On the table sat a mason jar filled with flowers.

A mason jar filled with flowers sat on the table.

A mason jar sat on the table filled with flowers.

In the third sentence above, the phrase “on the table” is ambiguous. Is the mason jar filled with flowers or is the table filled with flowers? Writers need to be aware of times when changing the position of the phrase may also change the meaning of the sentence.

Independent Writing: Ask students to return to their writer’s notebooks or to their current drafts to find places where they could add another prepositional phrase or change the position of the phrase in the sentence. Ask them to share what they changed and why they changed it.

Reflection: After students share their sentences, ask them to think about what they did and how it worked for them.

Examine the lead sentences in some of your narratives or descriptions of setting in your writer’s notebook. How could you revise the lead(s) to use one or several prepositional phrases to create a more detailed picture?

            Can you find sentences in one of your pieces where you could move the prepositional phrases to another position in the sentence? Explain which position fits your purpose better and why.

            What do you now know about prepositions and prepositional phrases?

            When will you use prepositional phrases again?

These reflective questions ask students to think about themselves both as writers and as thinkers and decision makers. Reflection is important also as a kind of formative assessment. As we teachers listen to and read student reflections, we note where they have had success and where they may need further teaching/modeling.

In addition, reflection contributes to growth mindset as opposed to fixed mindset. We know that IQ alone does not account for success. Many of us are aware of exceptionally bright students who are reluctant to accept challenges, take risks, or accept critical feedback and learn from it. Carol Dweck, in an Education World interview, states that “. . . being mastery-oriented is about having the right mindset. It is not about how smart you are. However, having the mastery-oriented mindset will help students become more able over time.”

So, what role does reflection play in integrating growth mindset–oriented learning processes into the classroom? We begin with high expectations and achievable goal setting for each student (as in the Your Turn Lesson example above). Success breeds confidence and a “can do” attitude. We recognize the challenging aspects of specific writing tasks, and we communicate our belief that all of our students will be able to meet the challenge. By using the gradual release of responsibility model, ending with reflection, we emphasize the importance of students recognizing what they know and can do.

Ask students to reflect on their process:

  • What did you do today in writing workshop that was hard for you?
  • How did you decide what to revise today?
  • What did you learn from your conference today?
  • What strategy did you try today? How did that work for you? What did you learn from it?
  • What strategy will you try tomorrow?
  • What can you do to improve your writing?
  • How did you solve a problem in your writing today?

Ask students to reflect on their product:

  • What did you write today that you like? Why do you like it?
  • What can you share with your writing group (the class) today? Why will you share it?
  • Why did you organize the piece the way that you did?
  • What other ways could your piece be organized?
  • What is interesting about your lead?
  • What makes your ending satisfying?
  • What kinds of sentences did you use? Is there variety?
  • Find some words that you are really proud of choosing and share them with us.
  • What did you do to edit your work?

Certainly, we wouldn’t ask students to reflect on all of these questions at once. However, reflecting on process and product keeps growth mindset in the forefront every day. Students who believe that their abilities can be developed and that they have the wherewithal to become better writers will become more able writers. Isn’t that what we all want for our students?

Entry Filed under: Blogstitute

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Julie O'Neill  |  July 5th, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Hi Duane and Lynne! This post is like discovering gold — there’s so much packed in that will push my teaching. I love the authentic way you teach grammar, giving students opportunity to inquire and reflect. After I write this comment I’m going to print your post and add it to my toolkit. Thank you.

  • 2. Julie O'Neill  |  July 5th, 2016 at 10:41 am

    Ooops, I did not reread my comment before hitting submit. It should have read, “Hi Diane and Lynne,” not, “Duane and Lynne.”

  • 3. Lisa Maucione  |  July 5th, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    Reflection is so important – both for ourselves as teachers and for our students. Reflection is one of those things that can get pushed aside because of time. We want all our students to develop a growth mindset and reflection helps them see how their efforts have helped them grow. I think the list of questions are useful. I am going to make sure I write those into my plan book. Some are also useful for reading work and others could be easily adapted.

  • 4. Elisa Waingort  |  July 5th, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    I am a big believer in the power of self reflection. I try to do it every day in my teacher journal or on a blog post. I sometimes wonder if I ask my students to reflect too much, though. Do they see the value in it? I know I do! Having said that, I think daily reflection in all areas of the day allowed my students this year to advocate for themselves when necessary and to feel good about everything they were learning and accomplishing, and to set goals for themselves. I like the idea of having kids reflect on a process and a product question every day. I’m thinking that having them write this reflection (sometimes just doing an oral sharing may be enough) in their writers’ notebooks, maybe on a sticky note, will help elevate their engagement and allow them to target particular areas where they can get better as writers. Unfortunately, deep reflection and effective sharing sometimes get short changed given everything we are required to do in schools.

  • 5. Erika Victor  |  July 6th, 2016 at 9:24 am

    I am always trying to incorporate more reflection and this post is FULL of great suggestions! Now, to find ways to get more of it in.

  • 6. Tracy Mailloux  |  July 7th, 2016 at 9:26 am

    I love the fact that you introduced your post with questions that many teachers dread hearing. It is disheartening to work with children to get them to become reflective, independent risk-takers and then have them bring you a piece of writing with the question “Am I done?” or “Is this right?” I think it speaks to the point you make about children being trained to see the teacher as the final authority. That is so hard to unlearn! I believe that self-reflection needs to also be scaffolded, modeled and taught for kids to see its value. That is something I work on improving each year. Thank you Diane and Lynne for your ideas and thoughts. Encouraging!

  • 7. Stephanie Eastwood  |  July 9th, 2016 at 3:38 am

    It’s so helpful to us readers because you’ve described a whole lesson for us. This is a way of teaching grammar that feels healthy! Please, though, could you tell us how much time you like to dedicate to each whole session? We know how important reflection time is, but often don’t end up with any. About how many minutes before class ends do you transition to reflection?

  • 8. Diane Anderson  |  July 17th, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    You showed how students can progress from thinking about pleasing the teacher or being “right” to reflecting on their process- identifying for themselves what they might do to improve, and reflecting on their product-identifying specifically what they like about their work and explaining why. What a difference!

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