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Practical Management of the Writing Workshop: The Super Board

by Gaetan Pappalardo

The writing workshop is fluid. The currents and tides are in constant motion (literally and figuratively) because it’s fueled by the human element. I’m not going to lie.  It’s a mess. I know this sounds like a headache. It certainly can be, but kids need this “mess” to find the gold. Barry Lane, author, speaker, and musician, states in his book, But How Do you Teach Writing?, that real writing needs time, space, and freedom.

I don’t have all of the answers because the questions change each year when your students change. However, I do have a trick to manage the space in your classroom when dealing specifically with conferencing.  And, I’m happy to day, that it’s working this year.

Help Board by Night, Super Board by Day

I first saw the help board in action when I interned at the Nancie Atwell Center for Teaching and Learning.  Ted Demille, first/second grade teacher, used this technique pretty successfully. I was taken aback at first at how this tiny wipe board on the wall almost ran the classroom. Ted used the board in a very basic, but effective manner.  Like a Honda, it just worked.

  1. Sign up when you need help.
  2. Erase your name when you a finished speaking to the teacher.

Easy, right? Wrong. When I started using the help board I ran into all sorts of problems––Too many students signing up at once, kids forgetting to erase their names, not getting to the help board, losing markers, signing up out of order: you name the problem, I had it. But, of course, this is learning.  However, I didn’t scrap the help board right away. I wanted to give it another shot. I changed. I started using the help board in a very specific manner. Instead of just using it for conference sign-ups, I used it for whatever I needed to help manage my instruction and manage my writers.

So, without any further ado, let me introduce you to my new and improved, classroom tested, kid-tested, writer-tested, teacher approved—-Super Board.

The Secret: The uses of the board need to remain fluid. The board is not set in stone and needs to change to accommodate the needs of the teacher and the students.

Tips for a Successful, Fluid Super Board

  • Write and Erase: Hold the students responsible for writing their own names and also erasing them when they are finished speaking to a teacher or help is no longer needed.
  • Placement is Key:  Strategically position your help board so you can see it from all areas of the classroom.  Also, make sure it’s large enough to read from across the room.  I almost always meet with the students on their turf, so being able to read the board quickly keeps your flow flowing.
  • Avoid a Hoard:  To avoid all of your students trying to sign up at one time, introduce the help board when you think your students have a) gained some writing stamina (writing for longer periods of time) and/or b) have demonstrated that they can use their writing time, not only for drafting, but for other “authorly” behaviors (rereading, revising, editing, revisiting maps and lists, research, etc…)
  • Order: To keep your students in order, you can put numbers on the board, lines for names, letters, create sections, etc…  The key is to try different things until something works.
  • Keep it Fluid:  This is the most important tip by far.  Your board needs to change with the needs of the students and the teacher. For example, I write headings on the help board to guide my writers.  For example, I might write questions like Finished a first draft? or Stuck? at the top of the board.  If you want to get more specific, you could write Share a Beginning or Used a Good Verb.  I also use the board during publishing time. Just make a t-chart—-One side says published, the other, still working.


Super Board in Transition 

What strategies help you manage your space?






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