Reflection: The Neglected R of the Writer’s Workshop
By Brian Kissel
I have taught Writer’s Workshop for over 20 years now and I’ve always had a nagging feeling that something was missing from my daily routine. I had a set routine: a short lesson, gave big chunks of time to write, weekly conferences with writers, and time for writers to get feedback from peers in the Author’s Chair. But I knew there was a gap in my instructional routine. So, I began to wonder: How often do I have writers think about their learning? Am I asking writers to articulate what they’ve learned beyond showing it through a written product? How often do I ask students to self-reflect?
These questions haunted me because I already knew the answers: Reflection was the neglected R in my Writer’s Workshop.
Reflection is an essential act for our students if they are to grow as learners. Carol Dweck (2007) found that students’ perceptions of themselves as learners play a big role in their success at school. Students who use self-reflection to recognize their continued growth as learners see knowledge as something that can be obtained. Rather than viewing intelligence as a fixed quality, students perceive intelligence as something they can gain through learning (Yeager and Dweck, 2012).
This past year, I made weekly visits to a Kindergarten classroom with the intention of studying reflection during Writer’s Workshop time. The teacher within this classroom taught the traditional model of Writer’s Workshop (mini-lessons, time to write and confer, and Author’s Chair), but added an additional component focused on Reflection. At the end of every workshop, the teacher reserved 3-5 minutes and asked students to reflect on their learning through talk, drawing, or quick-writes. The kindergarten students used a combination of all three to describe their learning in their writing daybooks.
We asked questions from four different categories:
- Looking Back Questions (e.g. What did you learn?)
- Looking Forward Questions (e.g. What are you going to do next?)
- Looking Inward Questions (e.g. How do you feel about your work today?)
- Looking Outward Questions (e.g. How do you think your writing compares to others?)
To illustrate how reflective responses look in a Kindergarten classroom, students recorded responses to the following reflection question after one Writer’s Workshop: How do you feel about yourself as a writer?” I told students they had two minutes to draw and/or write and I set a timer so I didn’t exceed 2 minutes. Here’s a sampling of responses:
Noah: I feel bored. Zoey: I feel nervous. Naveah: I feel happy.
The reflections revealed quite a bit about the writers. If a child is bored and yearns for the energy of friends (as Noah suggested), I need to make sure to position him in a space surrounded by friends who might give him the jolt he needs. If a child is nervous about writing (as Zoey explained), I need to know why and what I can do to help alleviate her trepidation. If a child feels happy about herself as a writer (Neveah), what is happening to make her feel this way? Might she offer suggestions to peers to help them foster this feeling within themselves?
A writer’s act of reflection is a form of authentic assessment for me. Each reflection teaches me something about writers and gives me insight into their thinking. Primarily, reflection is a self-evaluative act so the writer can step back and think inward. But it’s also an assessment act that teaches me something I need to learn from my writers so I can help them grow.
It seems testing companies get to dominate the assessment story of our students by defining their learning with one narrow test. Missing from the data are student voices. Daily reflection allows our students to provide a richer narrative of what they’ve learned. I think it’s time to bring reflection forward in our Writer’s Workshop routine. I’ve learned it’s a practice I can no longer neglect.
Brian Kissel is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. A former elementary school teacher and literacy coach, Brian teaches courses and conducts research in writing instruction. In his new book When Writers Drive the Workshop (Stenhouse, 2017), Brian takes readers into several different K-5 writing classrooms to show how students can drive each component of the Writer’s Workshop. Included in the book is a comprehensive list of other Reflection questions teachers could pose at the end of their Writer’s Workshops. You can visit his website at http://briankissel.com to see more of his resources about writing.