It seems for some time every school year brings (for me) a new subject (s) and ways to teach it. I am working with an 8th grade ELA block this year that has expanded by twenty minutes. My first thought was – more time to have a writing workshop. And that has been the case but how to go about it?
I decided to consult the experts: Jeff Anderson and Kelly Gallagher. Not in person of course but through these books: Everyday Editing (Stenhouse Publishers, $20.00) and Mechanically Inclined (Stenhouse Publishers, $22.50) by Jeff, his latest – 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know (Stenhouse Publishers, $24.00) and Kelly’s Write Like This, Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts. (Stenhouse Publishers, $23.00) No, I do not own stock in Stenhouse; it is just coincidental that I use these publications.
I became aware of Jeff Anderson several years ago through a colleague, beginning with “Everyday Editing.” I was thrilled with the plethora of mentor sentences and Jeff’s concept of “inviting” students to notice and work with the embedded grammar skills.
When conducting mini-lessons on writing, I begin with these mentor sentences but model as well so the students see experts and their teacher trying to make sense of grammar and sentence structure. Although “Mechanically Inclined” was written first, I found it after I began using “Everyday Editing.” It includes concepts not covered in the other. In addition to the mentor sentences, Anderson discusses the rules of these devices and students’ misconceptions, offering ideas for visualization of abstract concepts, as well as scaffolding. Occasionally there are suggestions for extensions, writing a new piece, but when there isn’t I find he has left me feeling secure enough to come up with an idea on my own.
“10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know” is just that! Ideas like motivation, narrowing a topic, organization – all part of writer’s craft, are covered in one word topics: Motion, Models, and Focus are listed as the first three. One of Anderson’s strength’s in all of his books is dispelling the notion that students learn grammar and writing through rigid instruction and the use of workbooks, thus students are taught to view the writing process as a scientist would field explorations.
That concept is part of Gallagher’s “Write Like This, Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts.” Beginning with an enlightening discussion of the writing expected of potential California police officers, Gallagher stresses the importance of students realizing that writing is a real-world skill and should be presented in that light. Real world writing can be categorized into six ways: Express and Reflect, Inform and Explain, Evaluate and Judge, Inquire and Explore, Analyze and Interpret, and Take a Stand/Propose a Position. He demonstrates how to take a topic of interest and create potential writing prompts for these types of writing. It was quite easy for me to personalize it and create a model for the students. They in turn created their own organizer filled with a year’s worth of writing ideas on things that are motivating to them. Furthering the scientist analogy, Gallagher includes a table comparing the scientific method and how it looks in writing.
I have asked students to treat their writer’s notebooks in this way. They are places for the recording of observations, making inferences on grammar rules and application, or playing with words or sentence structure. Hopefully you can tell that my students are generating quite a bit of writing – this in addition to any writing done during standard’s based explicit instruction. It becomes easy for me to ask them to take a section of the writing to work with on any day.
While I have been doing some sort of writing workshop for over twenty years, I still feel like a newbie. I change “the how” and “the what” often but these two gentlemen have offered me resources to keep my students motivated and writing. I thank both of you!