The Stenhouse Blog

Before Your Writing Workshop, Take Quiet 5

Posted by admin on Jan 21, 2020 3:32:22 PM

Here is an excerpt from Jennifer Jacobson's No More, "How Long Does It Have to Be?" in which she suggests pausing before you launch your writing workshop to take what she calls Quiet 5. Learn how this small step can have big benefits to you and your students.

Quiet 5

For years, when I sat down to write, I turned on the sound of Native American drumming. Even when I was far from home and didn’t have access to the recording, I would “hear” the drumming as I began to write. I realized that this drumming sharpened my focus. I didn’t think about transferring the laundry from the washer to the dryer or that extra slice of cake in the refrigerator; my thoughts began to flow.

I adapted this ritual in the classroom—not with drumming, but with quiet music without lyrics. I choose two or three favorites and play them at the beginning of each writing time. This music signals Quiet 5, a time when everyone is seated and writing without talking. The intention of this beginning is to provide everyone time to settle into the work, to think.

Of all the techniques and strategies I’ve shared with teachers over the years, this is by far the most popular. Why? Because the routine has a near-magical effect. Students settle into their work more quickly—and deeply. Once they are fully engaged, they don’t want to be pulled from the writing at hand.

Because this routine is so effective, many teachers keep the music playing throughout the workshop. I don’t. I like a clear distinction between the time when everyone in the room (including myself) is still and writing and the time when it’s okay to get up and get a mentor text or confer with a peer.

Here are some music recommendations for Quiet 5:

  • “Too Much Between Us” by George Winston
  • “Valuska” from Werckmeister Harmóniák (soundtrack)
  • “I’m Keeping Him” by John Williams (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial soundtrack)
  • “On the Rise” by Mark Unthank (Incredible Journey soundtrack)
  • “Watermark” by Enya

While the students write, you write (in the same genre). I know that this is extremely hard to do. You have trained your students to work quietly, and the temptation to complete a task, or to tie up a loose end with a student, is bearing down on you. Don’t give in. Know that writing alongside your students is the very thing that will have the greatest effect on their writing growth. When you write, you gradually shift from being the writing teacher to a writing colleague. You will share many of the pieces you write during minilessons (and perhaps in author’s chair). Also, we can really understand the challenges of writing well, and give authentic advice, only when we are doing it ourselves.


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