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Joy Write Question 3

The series of posts for “Joy Write” refer to the title of the text our new Summer Institute participants are reading. This is a fabulous book that examines writing instruction, published in 2017 by Ralph Fletcher. Our SI participants are going to comment on the questions, but any reader is welcome to contribute (whether you have read the book or not).

 

What do you think about choice vs. structure in the writing workshop?

Can you balance both? At what cost?

(Think about our discussion regarding preparing students for state tests, for the next teacher, etc.)

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tammy #

    I agree with Fletcher’s first faulty assumption: “A culture of compliance is preferable to a culture of engagement.” In my school district we have had a big movement and campaign toward student engagement. It has been preached and drilled again and again this year at our summer institute trainings and staff development meetings throughout the year. Can’t say I fall victim to this faulty assumption. Compliance to a written in stone program that a teacher is denied the liberty to deviate from is unheard of in my district. Wow! We barely have a curriculum that is written in stone. Some time I wish for a sneak peek at what programming might look like for my 12th graders so I don’t have to constantly re-invent the wheel! Blanket compliance to a set program, at present is literally a foreign concept to me! Felt good to get that out! I agree with Fletcher on faulty assumption number one because I firmly believe the best teaching and learning happens when our ability to think isn’t squashed by rigid compliance to the program and the best teachers are those who do spin their own wheel and toot their own horn in the realm of autonomy, creativity and innovation- the signposts of true teacher and student engagement without which there is the monotony of the program that kills all chances and hope for critical thinking, engagement and passionate learning and teaching.

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    May 18, 2019
  2. Meg #

    I agree with what most people say, that there must be some kind of balance. The biggest difficulty I feel is managing time. I don’t know how other people’s classes are, but I have 45 minutes a day to cover all of the reading and writing standards. We spend 2-3 days 3 times each year on standardized testing. I need to teach grammar because somehow my students have made it to 11th grade not knowing basic grammar rules; I used to try to only work on grammar through writing, but with no foundation, they have trouble even understanding why I was suggesting a certain revision. It goes on and on. Not to let this turn into an off-topic rant, I think effective Writer’s workshops need time and consistency, trying to squeeze it in a couple times a year doesn’t allow anyone to get any kind of rhythm. The other problem I would love suggestions to improve is that this year especially, I have quite a few unmotivated students – when I am trying to conference with individuals, there are always students who cannot or will not stay on task. When I need to spend too much time managing, my class cannot function like a real writing workshop.

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    May 17, 2019
    • Tammy #

      Hello Meg, I ditto that. I cannot seem to find the time in the 45min period to cover all the material and competency standards in reading and writing. Plus grammar instruction is severely compromised. First because of what I believe you are saying the idea of imbedded grammar instruction is foreign to my students and they are so used to the Grammar for Writing workbook that has lesson after lesson covering different grammar rules, concepts and skills but with no connection real live, real time writing. Don’t even know why the dag gone workbook is even entitled, “Grammar for Writing.” So, I attempted to imbed Grammar instruction with Jeff Anderson’s book, Mechanically Inclined. And like you I too feel my success or rhythm was compromised due to the inability of my students to wrap their heads around it and the time constraints of the 45min period and my inability to find the time to pull grammar errors for correction (FCA’s) Focus Correction Areas (concept from Anderson’s book) from their writing. Will try again next year and hope for a better outcome. I too struggle with unmotivated graduating seniors some with a high GPA that assures them a ticket into the college of their choice so they are content doing the bare minimum and want to cruise to their graduation day…Some of my students too are unable or unwilling to focus and I blame it on the byword of the technology generation we now teach- “the generation that were born with a screen in their hand.” I firmly believe as research has indicated brains are being changed, even ours…by this cell phone, digital, Google, technology age in which we live…” The ability or need to focus or critically think is being compromised by knowledge at our fingertips through technology.

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      May 18, 2019
  3. Dan #

    Honestly, I feel like writing workshop IS a balance of both. You have a mini-lesson (that structured, specific skill), and you have the writing time (the time to play and explore). When you’re conferring with students, you don’t have to stick with the skill they saw in the mini-lesson. Take a look at their writing. Did they try out the skill? Cool. Look at their writing, though. Teach them something new, tell them how you liked the risks they took… tell them what else they could try out to be even riskier. Pick up a mentor text and show them what real authors do in these situations. The conference time, in my opinion, should be as organic and catered to the students as possible. The set-up is literally a balance of both, and there is no cost. Instead, your pay-out is more creative thinkers and writers.

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    May 17, 2019
  4. Sandy Shacklady-White #

    Hello!

    I more or less answered this question in my Q2 posting and will now expand upon the other part of the prompt that referred to the chat we had in class about state assessments, next teacher and so forth. Bottom line, we must meet the needs of our students- ALL our students. If we provide what they need (equity vs equality) then they will perform in class via evidence they produce, In most cases (not all) the students will improve their performance on school-wide and state assessments. They may not get to ‘proficient’ which is a person-made construct/rating scale. All we truly should be focused on is the student obtaining the skills needed to be successful for their lives- not just a snapshot in time as the accountability/high- stakes assessments are. There is pressure for kids receiving special ed services to become proficient. Too often as a teacher and as admin, I saw the game of “let’s get those ‘bubble’ kids over the cut off. There would be pressure to get those kids up so the SD will ‘look good’ YET, to my horror, others saw the low Basic and Below Basic kids as not worth providing high quality instruction and interventions! I did not let the accountability measures at the SD level drive my teaching as I became comfortable in giving what I needed to give each student. I just wanted them to learn to like school and obtain life skills

    As for the ‘next teacher syndrome’ and also the ‘previous teacher syndrome’ , I was a victim of that on both ends being in middle school. I made a point to contact the previous teacher/s early in the school year to gain insights and this usually helped me understand why the students presented as they did. Not all the info can be gleaned from file folders- actually off the record chats are invaluable. I also learned to give t he next year’s team as much info as I could in advance or early on. While they may not have wanted it all, they could not say I didn’t give them information to help them in teaching and supporting the students, especially those students with significant learning disabilities, emotional conditions, or major family stressors.

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    May 17, 2019
  5. I find myself blending the two into “structured choice”. With the little ones especially, infinite choice is overwhelming because they’re seven- an adult makes all their decisions for them. Giving choice within topic or brainstorming possible ideas helps to harness their focus and attention. When they have too much choice, they tend to revolt when it’s time to do a district assessment, so they need more exposure to both kinds of writing.

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    May 17, 2019
  6. Jason #

    Balance is the ideal, though I have a secret hope that by the time students are in college they are confident writers and can mostly focus on choice writings that meet the course and assignment objectives. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

    For me, it is worth thinking about the cost. In chapter two, Fletcher spends some time explaining the costs of rigid structures, specifically energy, flexibility, and investment. The rigid structure of the writing workshop, then, does not prepare students for assessment or the next teacher as well as the balance and choice do because students do not learn how to invest in their writing and become flexible with their approaches. These skills seem like just as important skills as learning how to paragraph, compose a thesis, conclude an essay, etc.

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    May 16, 2019
    • Meg #

      Teaching high school juniors and seniors, I know that I worry a great deal about how prepared my students are to write for college. At the same time, though, when I try to give too much choice/flexibility, they want clear rules — how many words/paragraphs/pages, should it follow this format or that format. It’s hard to break many years of their bad writing habits and prepare them for something that could be totally different at the same time.

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      May 17, 2019
  7. Mark Schmidt #

    Balancing choice and structure is indeed the gold standard, I suppose the cost is the potential loss of quality of one in the attempt to facilitate the other. I look forward to hearing how other teachers manage this minefield and sharing soem of my own ideas.

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    May 16, 2019
  8. Abigail #

    I like the idea that you have to learn the rules before you can break them. Providing some structure in terms of a common foundation can a good thing and then we can set the students free to play with words and structure and genre. I like the structure of some routine in the workshop model, but allowing for choice about how to apply mini lessons and grow their own writing in unique ways is key too.

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    May 16, 2019
  9. Kelly S. #

    I think it is definitely possible, and necessary, to balance both. I’ve found that with a structured workshop, students enjoy the routine and understand the need for structured writing. However, students know I always intersperse choice activities throughout the workshop, so they feel heard and valued.

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    May 15, 2019
  10. I am honestly still having difficulty figuring that out. There should definitely be a balance, but I think it may depend on the grade level and writing experience. Some students crave structure, but there is also something to be said about challenging someone to think unconventionally and creatively.

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    May 15, 2019
    • Mark Schmidt #

      And it also depends on the individual student. The first borns are horrified at the thought of abandoning rules while getting the middle born children on task is like herding cats…

      Like

      May 17, 2019

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