Blogstitute 2016: Establishing Routines for the Writing Workshop

We close this year’s Summer Blogstitute series with a post looking ahead to the upcoming school year. Stacey Shubitz, the author of Craft Moves, shares her strategies for establishing routines and classroom procedures during the first few weeks of school so that students — and teachers — can maximize learning and teaching time during the entire year. There’s still time until the end of this week to leave comments or to Tweet about any of our Blogstitute posts using #blogstitute16 for a chance to win free books!

Establishing Routines and Procedures for the Writing Workshop
By Stacey Shubitz

stacey_croppedHaving solid routines and procedures for independent work increases student engagement and frees teachers to confer and work with small groups during independent writing time. But how does one accomplish this?

I believe in the Responsive Classroom approach’s First Six Weeks of School, which asserts that the beginning of the school year is a time to lay the groundwork by teaching academic routines, discussing expectations, and creating goals that will enable a classroom community to thrive for the entire year.

Here are some things to think about during the first six weeks of school so your writing workshop will function well for the entire year:

  • Create a list of writing workshop expectations with your students. This list will be different from the classroom rules you create with your class. Click here for some ideas about creating expectations for writing workshop alongside your students.
  • Invite students to create a verbal or written plan—at the end of every mini-lesson—so they will have an idea of how they’ll use their independent writing time. If students create a plan for how to use their time, they’re likely to stick to it because it’s their own. You can also refer to their plan if you find them off task.
  • Build stamina. Whereas you can launch writing workshop on the first day of school, you’ll have to build students’ stamina for independent writing. Increase the amount of time students are writing by five minutes every few days so they can reach forty-five minutes of sustained writing time by the end of the sixth week of school.
    • During these six weeks of stamina building, students will come to realize the following things about independent writing time:
      • Writers work on their own. In order for this to happen, you must teach students how to solve their own problems and carry on with their work without looking for your support.
      • Teachers help students by conferring with them one-on-one and by leading small-group strategy lessons.
    • Consider communal supplies. By providing students with access to all of the supplies they’ll need during independent
      Figure 3.4

      A writing center may contain a variety of paper, index cards, sticky notes, clipboards, interesting writing utensils, paper clips, tape, and dictionaries.

      writing time, you’ll make them less dependent on you when they need anything from sticky notes to a clipboard or a red pen.

    • Make mentor texts available in your classroom. Whether you have multiple copies of texts or provide your students with typed texts as “literary gifts” (as Carl Anderson calls them), students need access to mentor texts for ideas or inspiration at any time during writing workshop.
    • Minimize disruptions. Develop systems for minimizing disruptions. Students need to know they cannot interrupt you—unless it’s an emergency—while you’re leading a writing conference or a small-group strategy lesson. Implement a system for kids to sign out to get drinks of water or use the bathroom. Create spaces where kids can turn in their work. Develop a system for students to request a conference. Your ultimate goal is to wean students off of needing you for assistance, which will make them more self-sufficient and provide you with sustained periods of time to confer or to meet with small groups.

You don’t have to wait until the first day of school to get ready for writing workshop. Here are a few things you can do now to think about routines and procedures before the school year begins:

  • Make writing workshop a priority every day. Carve out forty-five to sixty minutes of your daily schedule, at least four days a week, for writing workshop. If you cannot find these blocks of time, sit down with your principal for assistance with scheduling so you can make daily writing a priority.
  • Put together a communal supply list and send it out to your students’ parents. In your letter, ensure parents that pooling the supplies will eliminate distractions because materials will be stored in a central location of the classroom, meaning there is less “stuff” in each student’s individual workspace.
    • In addition, if you don’t already have a place to house communal supplies, you’ll want to see if your school can help you make an investment in items like supply caddies and a storage unit for your class’s writing center. (If your school doesn’t have the money for this and you can’t spend your own, consider writing a mini-grant proposal, like this one, on org.)
  • Create a conferring toolkit you will use for your conferences and strategy lessons. Having a well-stocked toolkit close at hand will keep you focused on your students when you’re working with them during independent writing time. Items in your toolkit may include the following:
    • Mentor texts
    • Record-keeping forms (handwritten or electronic)
    • Checklists or rubrics
    • Mini-charts
    • Your writer’s notebook
    • Supplies (markers, pens, sticky notes, loose-leaf paper, and index cards)

I know it seems tempting to jump right into teaching a unit of study when the school year begins, but in order to maximize your teaching time all year long it is necessary to build a writing community and to teach students how to use materials and be self-sufficient during independent writing time. I’ve jumped in head-first and I’ve spent time teaching routines and procedures during the first six weeks of school. Lowering my expectations about how much curriculum I’d cover during the first month of school was beneficial and let me cover more units during the school year because I reaped the benefits of the time I invested in establishing routines and procedures during the first six weeks of school.

26 comments July 19th, 2016

Now available: Craft Moves

CraftMovesIf you want to help your students improve the quality of their writing—and who doesn’t?—you’ll find Craft Moves a must-have resource.
—Ralph Fletcher

In Craft Moves, Stacey Shubitz, cofounder of the Two Writing Teachers website, does the heavy lifting of choosing mentor texts and mining them for craft lessons you want your students to learn.

Using 20 recently published picture books, she creates more than 180 lessons to teach various craft moves that will help your students become better writers.

Each of the lessons in the book includes a publisher’s summary, a rationale or explanation of the craft move demonstrated in the book, and a procedure that takes teachers and students back into the mentor text to deepen their understanding of the selected craft move. A step-by-step guide demonstrates how to analyze a picture book for multiple craft moves.

Stacey discusses picture books as teaching tools and offers ways to integrate them into your curriculum and classroom discussions. She also shares routines and classroom procedures to help students focus on their writing during the independent portion of writing workshop and helps teachers prepare for small-group instruction.

Preview the book online now!

Add comment June 1st, 2016

Find Your Writing Tribe – Participate in the Slice of Life Story Challenge

We are thrilled to have a guest post today from author Stacey Shubitz who invites everyone to take part in the Slice of Life Story Challenge starting March 1. The great thing about this challenge is that you do not have to consider yourself a writer to participate — just put one foot in front of the other, find your tribe, and start writing!

Find Your Writing Tribe. Participate in the Slice of Life Story Challenge

By Stacey Shubitz

My Dad was an Eagle Scout who still loves the outdoors. He encouraged me to start hiking when I ventured away to sleepaway camp. I used my hiking boots just once during my first summer away from home. After a day hike, I declared hiking too tedious; it wasn’t for me. I shoved my once-worn hiking boots under my bed and didn’t touch them again until I packed up at summer’s end.

During the school year that followed, my father persuaded me to try hiking again. He thought I would enjoy it. In an effort to get him off of my case appease him, I vowed to try another daylong hike. I’m not sure if was the camaraderie, the scenery, or the GORP (a mixture of raisins, peanuts, and M&Ms), but I had a good time. Even though my legs ached by the end of the day, I signed up for another day hike a week later. I was hooked by the end of the second hike. By the time I returned to camp, I committed to an overnight hike, which consisted of climbing Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the northeastern United States!IMG_3809

Climbing Mt. Washington was challenging, but beautiful. Along the way my friends and I encountered lush forests and waterfalls.

Our overnight accommodations at the Lake of the Clouds Hut were sparse, but they were divine to our group considering how tired our bodies were after climbing all day.

The following morning, we awoke early, ate breakfast, and climbed to the summit of Mount Washington, where we were treated to a view of four states, Quebec, and the Atlantic Ocean!

I was exhausted when the counselors announced it was time to go. (Truth be told: I wished we could take the Cog Railway back down, but that didn’t happen.) I struggled with the hike to the base of the mountain, but kept myself focused that I’d always be able to wear the “This body climbed Mount Washington” t-shirt I purchased at the Mount Washington visitor center.

IMG_3812I remember sitting with ice packs for a day or two once we returned to sleepaway camp. (I also have a distinct memory of the five of us kids who climbed Mount Washington using tubes of Ben Gay, which the nurses gave us when we visited the infirmary.) Despite my temporarily bruised body, I recall feeling proud myself after climbing Mt. Washington. I had tried something I hadn’t particularly liked a second time, found I enjoyed it, and worked hard to accomplish something. To this day, I’m glad I gave hiking a second chance. As a result, I’ve hiked through incredible places, like Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, the Chilkoot Trail, Denali National Park, El Yunque National Forest, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, Kenai Fjords National Park, the Mendenhall Glacier, and Yosemite as a young adult.

I didn’t think I could be a hiker, but after reconsidering its merits and trying it again, I found my way to it. And quite honestly, it didn’t take much for me to become a hiker. I signed up for a hike, strapped on hiking boots, filled my canteen with water, put one foot in front of the other, and was on my way to becoming a hiker. I didn’t initially think of myself as a hiker, but once I did it more and developed the persona of a hiker. (I even purchased a Camelbak so I could get the hiker look!)

It takes work to become anything you endeavor to be. Perhaps you don’t consider yourself a writer. Just as I took a second look at hiking, I want to encourage you to take another look at being a writer. I didn’t need to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in order to consider myself a hiker. I put one foot in front of the other — and did it a lot — until I got good at it and enjoyed it.

Taking on the identity of a writer is hard for some people since they feel writers are people whose names appear on book covers. That couldn’t be further from the truth. A writer is anyone who writes regularly. Therefore, the only thing standing between you and becoming a writer is you. If you tell yourself it will take time to get comfortable putting words on the page, you can be a writer. If you tell yourself you can positively impact the lives of your students by writing regularly, you can be a writer. If you tell yourself you will shut down the voices in your head that tell you you’re not talented enough, you can be a writer. It takes time and practice, but everyone can become a great writer.

Once you come to believe the world will be a better place if your voice is part of it, the next thing you must do in order to become a writer is to make writing daily a priority. I realize it’s hard to fit yet another thing – in this case making a commitment to write daily — into an already jam-packed schedule. I have blogged about ways to create a writing life that is both consistent and meaningful.

The other thing you’ll need to do to become a confident writer is to find your tribe. One way you can do this is to form a weekly writing group with your colleagues. Another idea is joining an online writing challenge, such as the Slice of Life Story Challenge, which we host at Two Writing Teachers. This is a community of teacher-writers – at varying points in their careers – who come together to share blog posts about the ordinary moments in their lives.

Here’s a step-by-step process to get you ready to take on the Slice of Life Story Challenge in March

 

The Ninth Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge begins on Tuesday, March 1st over at Two Writing Teachers. All you need to get started is your own blog – which you can start for free using blogging software like WordPress or Edublogs – and a commitment to write daily. For more information on how to participate in our month-long writing challenge, please go to https://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/join-our-writing-community/.

I am confident teachers who are passionate about writing and write regularly have students who are more confident and capable writers. I know this because I was always very public about my writing life when I taught fourth and fifth grades. I allowed my students to peek into my notebook. I shared my writing with them regularly. As a result, I knew the struggles they faced – as writers – because I was a writer myself.

Like climbing a mountain, writing is hard when one’s new to it. Even if writing has been an uncomfortable task for you in the past, I encourage you to try it again. You never know where it might lead you.

Stacey Shubitz is a Pennsylvania-based literacy consultant and a former elementary school teacher. She is the co-author of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice (Stenhouse, 2010).  Her next book from Stenhouse, Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts, will be available in the summer of 2016. She blogs at Two Writing Teachers and can be found on Twitter at @sshubitz.

6 comments February 23rd, 2016

Become a teacher who writes

This March will be the eighth time that the Two Writing Teachers blog will host its annual Slice of Life writing challenge. Blog founder and Stenhouse author Stacey Shubitz invites all teachers — and students — to make writing a priority and write every day for 31 days. In this guest post, Stacey talks about why it is important for teachers to also be writers and how the month-long challenge can help you overcome your fear of writing.

Become a teacher who writes
By Stacey Shubitz

I spent 2006 – 2007 doing action research in my fifth grade classroom. One of my greatest takeaways was that in order to teach writing well, one must be a teacher who is also a Writer.

Some teachers I’ve consulted with don’t think they’re good writers. They’re paralyzed with fear because somewhere along the way they were made to feel afraid of writing. When I hear this, I often tell teachers how I overcame my fear of driving since it is similar, in many ways, to the fear some teachers feel about writing.

I was a confident driver in high school. I got my license at 17 and drove 32 miles round trip to school each day of senior year. I went to college in Washington, DC, where it was impractical to keep a car. My driving was limited to school vacations only. Things were going along fine whenever I came home from college and needed to drive until I was in a car accident in 1998. I was the seat-belted front passenger and sustained a neck injury that still affects me today. As a result, I stopped wanting to drive. I would defer to someone else to drive or I would take mass transit, even if the schedule was inconvenient. Upon graduation from college, I moved to Manhattan where I figured I’d live until I was old and gray. But then I fell in love a guy who got a job offer in Providence, RI. He proposed marriage. A little over a year later, I relocated from New York to Rhode Island. For the first time since high school, I had to drive a car again.

The guy I just referred to is Marc and he’s been my husband since 2007. When I moved to Rhode Island in July of that year, Marc bought me a present. It was a GPS and its sole purpose was to help me navigate so I could focus on safety and get over my fear of driving. When I set up the GPS, I selected the British male voice, who the company named Daniel. I chose Daniel because his voice soothing, which helped me every time I tensed up merging on to a highway. Initially, I pushed a button to avoid highways, which almost always sent me on a circuitous route. After realizing there were no shortcuts around the State of Rhode Island, I came to realize I’d have to dare to be the best driver I could possibly be. I’d have to be fierce, but cautious. I’d have to balance defensive driving with aggressiveness so I wouldn’t be run off of the road. If I was going to be independent, I’d have to overcome my fear of driving.

I once heard Mary Ehrenworth say “with risk comes beauty.” Sitting in the driver’s seat felt risky to me until driving took me to new places. Thanks to Daniel’s navigational prowess, I became a confident highway driver. Over time, I took myself on day trips to Narragansett, Newport, and Boston. Nearly eight years later, I drive long distances by myself. I split the driving with my husband on road trips. And even though there are still some things that scare me about driving (e.g., rush hour traffic in Manhattan), I am now confident enough to drive on I-81 next to all of the trucks every single day. Overcoming my fear of driving was essential to my independence.

If I could get over my fear of driving and become a driver, then you can overcome any discomfort you may have about writing to become a Writer. The only thing standing in your way of you becoming a Writer is you. If you tell yourself it will take time to get comfortable putting words on the page, you can be a Writer. If you tell yourself you can positively impact the lives of your students by writing regularly, you can be a Writer. If you tell yourself you will shut down the voices in your head that tell you you’re not talented enough, you can be a Writer. It takes time and practice, but everyone can become a great Writer.

Once you come to believe the world will be a better place if your voice is part of it, then the next thing you must do in order to become a Writer is to make writing daily a priority. I know it’s hard to fit yet another thing into an already jam-packed schedule. I have blogged about ways to create a writing life that is both consistent and meaningful.

If you’re still unsure about whether you can envision yourself as a Writer, I encourage you to try out slice of life writing. Slice of life stories are anecdotal pieces of writing about a small part of one’s day. It’s usually written in the first person.

Image 1

The Slice of Life Story Challenge began on Two Writing Teachers in 2008. The online challenge’s mission is to support teachers who wanted to write daily. Over the years, the Challenge created a community of teacher-writers who are better able to support the students they serve in writing workshops daily. Teachers are invited to write a slice of life story on their own blog and then share the link to their story on our blog’s call for slice of life stories. Then, each person who leaves a link to their blog visits at least three other people’s blogs to comment on their slice of life writing.

I’m always amazed by the enthusiasm in classrooms where students and teachers are writing alongside each other. Recently I asked our blog readers how their instruction has been impacted by being a Writer. Here’s a sampling of what they said:

Image 2 - Slicer Comments #sol15

Like these teachers, I believe being a Writer is the single most important gift I ever gave my students. Being a teacher and a Writer means you can confer with your students and feel a special kind of camaraderie. Being a teacher and a Writer means you understand the struggles and frustrations as well as the triumphs and the beauty. Being a teacher and a Writer means you will transform your students’ lives because you believe in the power of words. It is my hope all children who take part in writing workshops will have teachers who are also Writers.

I hope you’ll join us for the 8th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge this March. Click here for more information.

6 comments February 19th, 2015


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