A thriving writing classroom community is vital to successful writing instruction, but it’s not always easy to know where to begin. Here are the seven ingredients that Stacey Shubitz and Lynne Dorfman suggest from their new book, Welcome to Writing Workshop, that are essential to a successful writing community.
“Building a writing community starts in September, but sustaining the community is a yearlong effort.” –Stacey Shubitz & Lynne Dorfman
You are bound to come across students who are reluctant to write. By listening closely to what those students find interesting and what their needs are is your best plan to get these students engaged. “Our goal for writing workshop is total immersion in the writing process. Teachers who make time to find out about their students’ interests can work on using those interests to improve students’ attitudes,” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019).
It’s also necessary, however, to examine your own attitudes toward writing and teaching writing. If you are a reluctant teacher of writing, Stacey and Lynne want to remind you that you are never alone. They recommend researching some quality professional books and building a library of engaging mentor texts to use as great examples of author craft. “Share your thoughts and concerns with trusted others, but always look for ways you can learn more, problem solve, and turn negative into positive,” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019).
Teacher as Writer
Stacey and Lynne cannot stress enough that the secret to the success of a teacher of writers is to be a teacher who writes! “A teacher participates as a member of the writing community by writing, often modeling during minilessons, writing in her writer’s notebook and referring to it often, and sharing examples of the kinds of writing she does outside the classroom,” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019). The authors compare it to teaching violin: you can’t teach it if you don’t know how to play it yourself. You can’t be a part of a writing community if you don’t also share in your students’ experiences as writers, struggling with word choice, voice, organization, etc.
Stacey and Lynne believe that it’s important to establish writing partnerships during the first few weeks of the schoolyear. In order to avoid your students choosing their best friend as their partner or partnering with another student who might not make the best partner, start by asking them to choose three or four other students they would like to partner with and a few with whom they do not think would make a good partner. “We can help students make wise choices when it comes to who they’ll work with for a unit of study, a semester, or—if things go well—an entire school year!” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019).
One of the greatest ways to build your community of writers, according to Stacey and Lynne, is to share the work of all the writers in the classroom during the end-of-workshop share. “This is a time to highlight the strategies students have tried in their writing. It’s a time to showcase students’ processes in ways that can be helpful for their classmates,” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019). Be sure to give a nudge to those quieter students, or to those who don’t think they have any valuable knowledge to pass on to their peers. It’s important for each member of the writing community to understand that they have something to teach to, or learn from, each other that will make them stronger writers.
“One of the easiest ways to infuse joy into your writing workshop is to celebrate the work of young writers. Afterall, we write to be read!” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019). Publishing parties are a great way to celebrate. At the end of a unit of study, you can invite family members and other students from different classrooms to celebrate the work of your young writers with treats! But it’s also important to celebrate throughout the writing process. Shubitz and Dorfman offer further suggestions on how to celebrate in Welcome to Writing Workshop.
Considerations for English Language Learners
One way to engage your English language learners in the writing community is to give them high-quality mentor texts, particularly picture books. More options include allowing them the freedom to sketch, use their own language, participate in oral rehearsal before they write, and partner with another writer to do some collaborative writing. “As a workshop teacher, you will have to consider your use of resources and what can maximize instructional time for your English language learners,” (Shubitz and Dorfman 2019).
Creating a community of writers in your classroom is just part of overall successful writing instruction. To learn more about how you can design a writing workshop in your classroom that will instill a lifelong love of writing, pick up a copy of this important new resource, Welcome to Writing Workshop!
Shubitz, Stacey and Lynne Dorfman. 2019. Welcome to Writing Workshop: Engaging Today's Students with a Model That Works. Portsmouth, NH. Stenhouse Publishers.