Today Angela Stockman @AngelaStockman gives our writing workshop a makeover. The author of Make Writing, Angela is passionate about creating writing workshop experiences that are relevant to today’s learners and accessible to even the most resistant writers.
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Below is a transcript modified for your reading pleasure. For information on the guests and items mentioned in this show, scroll down to the bottom of this post.
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5 Ways to Reach Even Resistant Writers with Writer’s Workshop
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Thursday, August 17, 2017
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford
Idea #1: Expand Your Definition of Writing
Vicki: Oh, teachers are getting so excited and geared up, and today with us we have Angela Stockman, and we’re going to talk about five ideas to amp up writing for the new year. Now we’re also going to do a giveaway of her book, Make Writing: Five Teaching Strategies That Turn Writer’s Workshop Into a Maker Space, where she has five more ideas. Angela, what is your first idea for amping up writing for this new school year?
Angela: I think one of the things we can do to get kids excited about writing, you know, especially to engage kids who resist it, is to start redefining what we mean by writing. I believe very strongly that words are way too important to be confined by print, and that if we can get kids involved in building and in using modalities other than print to communicate stories and to share their opinions and to even construct poems, you’re going to be able to engage quite a number of kids in the process who tend to tell us that they hate it. It also helps kids who love writing conceptualize the things that they’re writing about in a very different way, and it leads to better details.
Vicki: Do you mean they can voice dictate, or do you mean that they can do audio as writing?
Angela: I mean that they can build things and call that writing. So instead of dictating or audio recording a description of a character, I would like them to build their character using loose parts and materials. I’d like them to “make” that character. Once they make it, they’re often able to use their words to describe it either orally or in print. Sometimes kids will label different parts of the objects that they built and their creations, and it helps them come up with better words. But if I’m walking around the room as a writing teacher, and I want to know if kids are able to create a really complex character, sometimes putting building materials in their hands and loose parts enables them to conceptualize and create that character far better than beginning with words or beginning with print. The fact is that we often see things in images and in dimension before we are able to conceptualize the words that we want to use. So I like to go there first.
Vicki: And our bodily kinesthetic learners and a lot of our ADD kids are really going to thrive with that approach.
Angela: They’re out of their seat!
Idea #2: Coach students to treat text like “loose parts”
Vicki: OK, what’s the second?
Angela: I think it’s really cool to coach kids once they start using words to treat text like loose parts. I believe in writing bit by bit, and so if we’re starting from the ground up with a text that they’re creating on their own, if you understand what the components of a story are. If we’re writing a story where somebody wants something but there’s a problem, so they try to intervene and correct that problem, and then there’s a solution, that’s five parts to a story. If kids can write those parts on index cards instead of on a single draft of paper or on the screen, they can start to mix, remix, and brainstorm different possibilities for each part, one small bit at a time. So when we treat text itself like it’s movable and mixable, that’s really engaging for kids. It’s also more manageable when we try to give feedback and have kids revise, because they’re not looking at redoing the entire piece, they’re able to revise just around the small bit that we’re giving them the feedback around. When we have students cut them apart, physically, so that we can isolate the pieces that we want to look at, it drops the noise around the text as a whole. We’re only zeroing in on that small piece. We also can mix and remix mentor text. It makes working with writing a far more experimental and creative process, but it also – when we shrink things down to their smallest bits – we’re able to engage with kids who struggle the most in a way that is least overwhelming for them. So I like treating text like loose parts, too.
Vicki: I love that because, you know, so often when I teach kids, I’ll give them some revisions for a paragraph, and because I teach in a computer lab, I can watch them edit. I can’t tell you how many kids will just erase the whole paragraph. And I’m like, “Nooooo, just move this one here and move this one there.” So many of them don’t realize that once they’ve drafted, they can move things around to really make it a better piece.
Angela: Yeah, I think that if we can make that a very physical experience, at least for some kids, they really make the connection even when they return to the screen. And I think it’s important to say these ideas aren’t things that we have to impose on kids, they’re just ideas that you might want to try with kids who prefer not to sit, or not to write on paper or a screen. Some kids thrive there, and I think you should leave them there, if that’s where they do best.
#3: Find evidence of learning while on our feet
Vicki: Great! What’s number three?
Angela: Number three is to stop relying our gradebooks so much and to start scooping up evidence of learning, on our feet while we’re teaching kids. There are so many opportunities with our cellphones in hand to take pictures, to audio record, to apps like Seesaw, to be able to use different kinds of evidence of learning to determine how close kids are getting to the targets that we’re helping them to reach. So instead of seeing data as numbers and something that we calculate off of things like tests or even final drafts of writing. Instead they have a target in mind. I want to know if my students are able to write a really forceful claim. Audio record them when you’re conferencing with them. Take photographs over their shoulders of their drafts in progress. Let them share their brainstorming with you, and capture images of that. Use that to determine how close you’re getting to your target. It saves a ton of time. People are not hauling tons of papers home and consuming their whole weekends with full drafts. If you assess along the way, in this way, on your feet, by the time kids turn in those final copies, the quality is that much better because you provided bits of feedback along the way.
#4: Make sure students are writing in a way that makes a difference
Vicki: I love that. Assess on your feet, not at midnight on your weekend. OK, what’s number four?
Angela: Making sure that kids are writing in real ways that make a real difference. This is especially true for primary teachers who often struggle to kind of conceptualize how kids who are that young might actually find real audiences. Thinking about the ways that a kindergartener or a first grader might actually make a contribution to a real audience, as well as our middle school and high school students. These are really important things. One of the most inspired things that I saw once was… we had first graders in a classroom that I coached in. Heather Becka in Lockport, New York, worked with her friend Molly Kelly, who’s a first grade teacher. Heather was bringing in chicks and they were going to be hatching. And she had the first graders from the previous year skype into the classroom and share informational pieces with the kindergarten students about what they could expect and how to take care of those chicks, based on their experiences the previous year. There are lots of opportunities for kindergarteners to write to local leaders and make recommendations about the state of their playground in the community, or to be able to make requests to the principal about the speakers that should be brought into the school. If you’re going to have a visiting author, it’s a great way to do persuasive writing with kindergarteners around the authors that they would like to see that PTAs bring into school, too. Be really creative but genuine about authentic writing for kids. I think is huge.
#5: Move from Celebration to Exhibition
Vicki: And we know authentic audience improves writing. What’s our fifth?
Angela: The fifth is to think a little bit about exhibition instead of just celebrating writing. We do a lot of this, particularly in elementary schools, where we have kids celebrate the writing that they’ve accomplished. I think it’s also really important on an almost daily basis, inside of writing workshops especially, to pay attention to what kids are doing that we didn’t expect them to do that is really cool. Then illuminating that for the rest of the class. So, if we’re in a sixth grade classroom or a fifth grade classroom or even in a high school classroom, and kids are starting to use dialogue in a way that’s pretty different from how other kids might use it. They’re doing something sophisticated or even trying, in kindergarten, I think it makes sense, at the end of the class period, not just to celebrate the effort of writing or what was produced but to put that kid up in the front of the room and say, “Teach the rest of the class what you were doing today so that we can learn from you.” Exhibition is a little bit different from celebration in that it showcases the learning, the strategy, so that other kids cans scoop it up and use it in their own writing. I think that’s incredibly important.
Vicki: Teachers, we have so many remarkable ideas to really take writing to the next level. I challenge you. How is your writing workshop going to be different? How are you going to engage all of your learners? How are you going to have them write on their feet and you assess on your feet? Angela’s given us so many great challenges.
Check out the show notes for the book giveaway, Make Writing: Five Teaching Strategies That Turn Writer’s Workshop Into a Maker Space.
So many great ideas! Thank you, Angela!
Full Bio As Submitted
Angela Stockman facilitates professional learning experiences for K-12 literacy teachers within and beyond her home state of New York. The author of Make Writing, Angela is passionate about creating writing workshop experiences that are relevant to today’s learners and accessible to even the most resistant writers.