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Posts tagged ‘Writing-Reading Workshop’

Writing-Reading Workshop Blurs the Lines Between Asynchronous and Synchronous Learning

by Lauren Heimlich Foley @lheimlichfoley

Hanging up the phone, my mind buzzed like the dragonflies zipping past my balcony. A colleague and I had been discussing my workshop structure during distance learning. We made an interesting observation: my instruction and student learning did not fit neatly into asynchronous or synchronous learning. Over the course of any given week, student work slid between the two. The movement felt natural because our brick and mortar workshop effortlessly “pinged” between whole-group and small-group instruction, independent work, conferences, and collaboration. Moreover, before Covid-19, conversations and extra help occurred during advisory, lunch, and resource as well as before and after school and in the hallway.

During distance learning, students communicated with each other and me outside of designated synchronous learning through Canvas discussion boards. They asked questions, received feedback, and collaborated in almost real time. Students reached out as much or as little as they needed. This in between work simulated brick and mortar conferences, partner work, and out-of-the-class-time conversations. In trying to explain this type of learning, I am adopting the term (a)sync. (A)sync moves beyond the binary of asynchronous and synchronous learning; it creates the opportunity for students to communicate with their peers and teacher during non-synchronous times. Once school starts, I will bring my students into the conversation with informal action research. Their feedback will guide my approach and refine this “next” practice. 

Independent Reading, Quick Writing, and Conferences

Much of my reflection has concentrated on building a community of readers and writers through independent reading, conferences, quick writing, and group work. In school, we start every day with independent reading. By the end of the week, I have conferred with every student at least once, and table groups have shared updates and informal book talks. We have generated and shared writing ideas that strengthen and create new connections. The choice and collaboration here become pillars for the learning that follows. If there is limited or no time in the physical classroom, then synchronous Teams meetings are another option.  

Long-term (a)sync “table group” discussion boards will also keep students connected when not face-to-face. Students can post and respond as much or as little as they would like about their reading and writing. This past spring, students had the opportunity to communicate with each other outside of scheduled synchronous learning. Here they shared an exciting moment in their writing pieces, asked questions, got book recommendations, etc. While I occasionally commented or asked a question, these discussion boards were created to strengthen students’ writerly and readerly conversations and connections outside of synchronous learning.

How I will organize independent reading, quick writing, and conferencing for the 2020-2021 school year is very much up in the air for me. Once there is a district plan in place, I can begin negotiating when, where, and how this work will take place. I do know that (a)sync communication will continue to play a factor along with synchronous or face-to-face conferences.


In our brick and mortar workshop, sometimes mini-lessons begin with activating prior knowledge. Other times we start with the mentor text and construct our knowledge. From there, students discuss how and why the author uses a technique, or they analyze literature. Depending on the difficulty of the skill, students may practice it, independently or with peers, which creates the opportunity for additional help or enrichment before moving on to workshop time.

Distance learning worked similarly: students reviewed direct instruction and mentor texts through PowerPoint recordings. There was a practice component: Canvas quizzes with immediate formative feedback could be retaken as many times as needed. For some skills, students created, submitted, and received individualized feedback before their long-term assignments.

(A)sync learning became a key role in these mini-lessons. One-on-one discussion boards offered the support that students would have received in class and during the school day. Although students could ask questions during optional Teams meetings, they were held at scheduled times. Some students–because of extenuating circumstances–were unable to attend. Or, like in class, they felt uncomfortable asking their questions in front of a large group. These one-on-one discussion boards offered a place in between asynchronous and synchronous learning. When students posted to their individualized discussion board, I could see the new message as easily as refreshing my email. I checked these discussion board notifications as frequently as I checked my email (or more frequently during scheduled class time) because I established this was the mode students and I would communicate in. I offered feedback, answered questions, clarified directions, etc. I made it clear that outside of class time (after school hours and on weekends) I may not respond until the next school day.

Workshop Time

(A)sync learning became increasingly important during workshop time because it provided students with a way to get the feedback they needed. Similar to our brick and mortar assignments, students completed long-term writing pieces which spanned one or two weeks. During spring 2020, students wrote literature letters, developed Self-Selected Writing Pieces, designed scripts and recorded videos, and created electronic portfolios. If we were in our physical classroom, students would engage in small-group table conferences and one-on-one conferences. Additionally, at the beginning of every brick and mortar workshop time, I complete a check-in to see who needs the first few conferences. The one-on-one discussion boards (which I mentioned above with mini-lessons) fostered similar lines of communication in addition to–and outside of–synchronous Teams meetings. Furthermore, the long-term “table group” discussion boards supported students during the writing process. Students were invited to share their work, ask for feedback, and peer conference. The movement between asynchronous, (a)sync, and synchronous learning maximized students’ learning, growth, and participation.

For this coming year, I want to explore large and small group critical thinking discussion boards. Similar to homework completed in the blended writing-reading workshop, students will complete discussion board assignments during asynchronous learning. Synchronous learning (in class, face-to-face Teams meetings, or scheduled Canvas discussion boards) will extend the work completed independently. I am also re-envisioning my community building activities in September and my units of study from the first, second, and third marking periods. The changes and additions for next year will be enriched by the interactions during (a)sync learning.

Much will change between now and September and even once the school year begins. Thinking through these ideas creates a foundation for my instructional planning. I am also exploring how I can maximize face-to-face communication with students, the balance of asynchronous and synchronous learning, as well as innovative ways to use Canvas discussion boards and Teams meetings. I am excited to begin participatory action research this year to study (a)sync learning. Together, my students and I will observe what is working and what needs to be re-imagined.

Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What did distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? How will distance learning change or enhance your brick and mortar routines and best practices? What does Fall 2020 look like for you, your classroom, your school, and/or your district?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email if you are interested or would like to find out more information.

Distance Learning: Summer Reading Recommendations

by Lauren Heimlich Foley

Rita DiCarne and Kelly Virgin inspired this week’s blog post. Each summer I choose a combination of professional texts and YA novels to read. This July and August, one area I am focusing on is online learning, blended learning, and the digital workshop. I will not have time to read everything mentioned below but will use this post as a guide and reference point for my own learning. I hope it helps you to cultivate your professional development summer reading list.

1. Digital Writing-Reading Workshop

I mentioned the following two books—The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks and Adolescents and Digital Literacies by Sara Kajder—in my last distance learning blog post. I believe these texts are important for me to reiterate because they are foundational. If you have not read these books, I would highly recommend one or both to begin your journey at digitizing your writing-reading workshop. The theory, practical application, and resources will enhance your teaching whether you return to the brick and mortar classroom, remain distance learning, or teach a hybrid model. These books will serve as references as I continue to reflect on my own teaching practices. Looking ahead to next year, I want to explore more ways my middle schoolers can engage with texts they are reading whether a whole class novel, book club book, independent reading book, or online articles. I also want to cultivate additional online, real-world writing opportunities. The following titles will help me further hone my digital workshop best practices:

2. Creating Videos to Enhance Student Learning

At the end of the school year, I asked my students for feedback on distance learning. Three students mentioned that they greatly appreciated the PowerPoint lessons with my voice over. They also said my directions in Canvas were clear and easy to follow, but they asked for more videos and/or audio clips of me speaking the directions. They explained that reading the mentor texts, following along on the PowerPoints, and reviewing all of the written directions in Canvas added up to a lot of online reading. Not to mention when you multiply that routine times all of your classes. For the last week of school, I left a personalized message on the module overview page using the Canvas audio recorder. I liked the concept and wished I had discovered it sooner.

As I explored possible books for my summer read list, 99 Tips for Creating Simple and Sustainable Educational Videos caught my eye, especially “Tip 19: Take Students on a Tour.” In this section, Karen Costa suggests creating video virtual tours to “show” students how to navigate the learning management system. The video might review prior knowledge, module organization, course assignments, and weekly directions. After perusing more of the book on Google, I will be ordering my own copy as a reference.

3. Social Networking Influences on Adolescents

To better understand why social networking sites appeal to my teenage students, I want to read more about their digital, social lives and the psychology behind it. In learning about what makes them gravitate toward social media, I will be able to use Canvas, Microsoft Teams, and other technology platforms to further engagement students and enhance our digital workshop. As of now the following articles will assist me on this journey. I am currently looking for others and will comment on this post if/when I find additional titles.

4. Blended Learning

Blended learning may be a reality for many teachers this coming fall. Learning how to navigate and balance my brick and mortar best practices with technological enhancements will be important if I am going to create an engaging, meaningful, and relevant learning experience for my students. My district’s professional development secondary education coach, Michele Meyers, recommended Catlin Tucker’s books. Her blended learning philosophy will be of help as I envision my 2020-2021 classroom. She has many published books, resources, and videos on her website. I am still deciding whether I am going to order one or both of the following titles:

5. Structuring your Summer PD + Additional Resources

Dr. Buckelew shared the article “How I’m Spending My Pandemic Summer Vacation: A professor creates a syllabus to guide herself and other faculty members in preparing for more remote teaching this fall, amid Covid-19.” by Sarah Rose Cavanagh. The author’s voice is inviting, and she offers a plethora of reading options and great resources.

With the whole summer ahead of me, I am looking forward to enjoying the extra time to read and write for me, bird watching on my apartment balcony, finally getting to hang out with family and friends—six feet apart. This list of books and articles will guide my professional summer reading and help prepare me for the fall.

What resources are you using and what texts are you reading to prepare for the Fall 2020-2021 school year?

Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What did distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? How will distance learning change or enhance your brick and mortar routines and best practices? What does Fall 2020 look like for you, your classroom, your school, and/or your district?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email the PAWLP blog if you are interested or would like to find out more information.

Distance Learning: Re-Imagining Student Conversations and Collaboration in the Digital Writing-Reading Workshop

by Lauren Heimlich Foley

At the end of each school year, I find myself reflecting. I wonder how I can enhance the order of my units, improve my mini-lessons and assignments, foster more meaningful student collaboration, and so forth. Students’ end of year reflections help me hone my best practices and prompt me to consider the ways I can better meet their needs. This year marked a first for me: asking my students to reflect on distance learning. Although there are best practices for the digital workshop, blended learning, and online teaching, teaching solely on the computer was something I had not yet studied or tried. I considered how best practices in the digital writing-reading workshop applied, contemplated my teaching philosophy, explored my district’s technology resources, and—most importantly–remembered my students.

During the last decade, my digital writing-reading workshop focused on a variety of digital, multigenre, and multimodal projects, the electronic portfolio, various online platforms to create and share work, and student collaboration using Microsoft products. These assignments were enhanced through student-student and student-teacher face-to-face conferences and conversations. Even when my district implemented Canvas, our learning management system, I balanced high- and low-tech assignments and class periods. I was cognizant that I re-defined the ways students used their laptops to ensure that technology enhanced and re-imagined materials, assignments, and collaboration instead of simply replacing pencil and paper and in-person interactions.

I found the discussion boards to be a strength of Canvas, but I did not want these blog-like forums to replace students’ verbal conversations. So, discussion boards became a place where they could post writing inspirations for their classmates, make book recommendations, receive feedback on writing assignments, publish their drafts, post a summary of their verbal table group discussion for the class, and share individual or group practice examples from mini-lessons. These boards housed information, writing pieces, feedback, and conversations for later reference and use.

Then, distance learning hit. I—once again—had to re-imagine how I could foster student conversations and collaboration as well as student-teacher conferences. One-on-one and small-group Canvas discussion boards and Microsoft Teams proved helpful. Weekly Canvas discussion boards enabled students to share their quick writes, book insights and recommendations, and drafting with their brick and mortar table groups. However, students often logged in to complete their work at different times. Although students could ask questions, offer answers, and leave feedback, their peers were not present to engage in real-time digital conversations. For our final unit, the electronic portfolio, I asked each class period to sign in at the same time so that they could read one another’s work and have conversations with each other. This invitation proved the most successful: it had the most participation. Additionally, our optional Teams meetings enabled students to ask questions, review directions, discuss books, and share writing pieces. Students signed up for these calls, and they left with new book titles, writing inspirations, and clarity.

Now, with more than a marking period of distance learning under my belt, I have begun to see its limits and possibilities. Armed with student reflections, my experiences, and new and old resources, I am asking myself these questions for the 2020-2021 school year:

  • How can I enhance distance learning practices to better meet the needs of my students?
  • How will distance learning change my best practices in the brick and mortar classroom?

Currently, I am exploring how Canvas and Teams can foster student conversations and collaboration. I returned to the work of Sara Kajder and Troy Hicks—two teacher researchers who, early on in my career, greatly informed my digital writing-workshop practices. The following research will inform my practices next year:

  • Lenhart et al. in “Teens and Social Media” (2009) posit, “The primary motivation for participation in a social network is to interact with friends and/or members of the participating community (as cited in Kajder, 2010, p. 18).
  • Ito et al. (2008) explain that digital adolescents use social networking spaces to “find a different network of peers and develop deep friendships through these interest-driven engagements, but in these cases the interests come first” (p. 14, as cited in Kajder, 2010, p. 18).
  • Students and teachers “can use blogs to offer responses in the form of posting, tagging, and commenting (Hicks, 2009, p. 41).
  • “Students can simply post responses to journal prompts or share links” and “they can write analyses of online materials, synthesizing across sources and building on their previous posts” (Hicks, 2009, p. 41).
  • “[Will] Richardson suggests that blogging invites writers to synthesize ideas and opens up conversation between writers through commenting on the posts of others and then incorporating those posts into one’s own writing” (Hicks, 2009, p. 41).
  • Blogging “demands that students read, respond, and write in ways that encourage more specific response and utilize features of a digital writing space. That is, students who blog are able to hyperlink to sources of information and inspiration, embed multimedia for specific rhetorical purposes, and engage in larger conversations about their topics” (Hicks, 2009, p. 41).

Kajder and Hick’s insight in social media networking and blogging is influencing the way I perceive Canvas discussion boards and Teams meetings. I am also considering how my students’ interests in YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facetime, and other social media can give me insight into how I can appeal further to their digital, social lives.

My students’ feedback confirmed the desire to share more through discussion boards and have more opportunities to socialize in Teams. They enjoyed the portfolio publishing the most out of the publishing opportunities because their group members were all present. They wanted different groups to share with and a variety of discussion boards for different purposes. And, they liked being able to use text, audio, and/or video to post. Moreover, they preferred when the discussion boards remained open, so they could access them and post without time limitations. Students praised the one-on-one office hours discussion board which replicated the conferences I would hold during independent reading time and our workshop time. In terms of Teams, students wanted set times for regularly scheduled meetings. Some appreciated that these calls were optional while others would have preferred them being mandatory. A common thread that surfaced was the desire for more and varied opportunities to share with peers.

Next year, I will use Canvas and Teams to tap into my middle schoolers social and digital nature. They will have more online opportunities to forge connections with peers and make new friends while simultaneously thinking creatively, critically, and empathetically as they enhance their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills.

I have been doing some brainstorming. Below are the ways I would like to employ Canvas and Teams next school year whether we are teaching remotely, in school, or a hybrid of both. Some ideas I have tried before in my brick and mortar classroom and during distance learning while others I will experiment with for the first time next year. I am sure this list will grow and change as the summer continues and once school starts.

Canvas Discussion Board Creation Notes

  • Create groups based on friends and interests.
  • Rotate groups weekly or by unit so students can interact with new/different classmates.
  • Include small-group and whole-class posting opportunities.
  • Create groups with students from my different class periods.
  • Vary what students are sharing and commenting on.
  • Consider the names of discussion boards to help students and me locate conversations.
  • Provide commenting sentence starters.
  • Set clear expectations.
  • Provide directions for using the boards.
  • Stress the different ways they can post information: text box entries, Office 365 uploads, attachments, pictures, audio recordings, and webcam videos.
  • Find out if there is a way to see all posts even if students edit or delete them.
  • Keep discussion boards open and ongoing.
  • Remind students that they can share digital media along with their own posts such as external links, videos, articles for research, links to books, pictures, music, videos, related online texts, etc.

Canvas Discussion Board Topics and Purposes

The following items could be adapted for small-group and whole-class discussion boards.

  • Collaboration: a place to share and create materials for group projects, to discuss book club books, and to receive feedback on writing components
  • Student examples for reading and writing mini-lessons
  • Receptacle of genre study or whole-call novel questions that other students and I can provide answers to
  • A place to share drafts throughout the writing process for revision and editing feedback as well as publication celebrations
  • Foster topic and genre brainstorming and rehearsing in which students ask each other to expand and reflect on their initial writing ideas
  • Conversations that build off of previous conversations with their peers or professional posts  
  • Replication of brick and mortar quick write shares and informal table group book talks
  • Book recommendations with links to Goodreads and/or Amazon for their peers’ further exploration
  • Create separate threads for students to reply to which would focus around student-selected texts for mini-lessons, poetry analysis, book passes, common themes in independent reading books, recommended books in different genres, genre study mentor texts, etc.
  • Create separate threads for jigsaw lessons
  • Sharing of mini-lesson ideas or workshop inspirations such as strong words I’d like to use in my own writing, literary devices, figurative language, conventions to experiment with, ways to include MLA in-text citations, authors’ mood and tone, etc.
  • First book chapter or page posts: reader responses, observations, recommendations, first impressions, etc.
  • Independent reading book posts: analysis, read like a writer observations, writing inspirations, and mini-lesson application

Teams Meetings to Support and Enrich Canvas Discussion Boards

  • Create a standard Teams meeting time each week. At this point, I am unsure whether attendance will be mandatory or encouraged, and I am waiting to see if there is a directive from my district.
  • Conduct small-group Teams meetings based on students’ needs and/or similar interests (e.g. table groups, weekly discussion board groupings, interests, genres, book topics or themes, and/or skills differentiation), which will either be mandatory or encouraged.
  • If we are back in the brick and mortar classroom, but social distancing, I can use Teams to have one-on-one or small-group conferences with students from across the room. I imagine us sitting six feet apart and plugging in our earplugs to quietly talk to one another.

Since my district has a partnership with Canvas and Microsoft, I am primarily using them; however, these ideas can be easily applied to a variety of platforms such as Google, Zoom, and Flipgrid. Kajder and Hicks also reference a variety of platforms that are available to teachers.

With summer almost here, I anticipate plenty more personal reflection and professional development. I look forward to what September brings.


Hicks, T. (2009). The digital writing workshop. Heinamann.

Kajder, S. B. (2010). Adolescents and digital literacies: Learning alongside our students. National Council of Teachers of English.

Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What does distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? How will distance learning change or enhance your brick and mortar routines and best practices? What does Fall 2020 look like for you, your classroom, your school, and/or your district?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email the PAWLP blog if you are interested or would like to find out more information.

Distance Learning Writing-Reading Workshop

By Lauren Heimlich Foley

“Thanks for keeping things as normal as possible and for being positive. It’s helped me. I know this hasn’t been easy for you either.”

Kasey, an eighth-grade student, said this to me as she left one Friday afternoon in November 2019. Earlier that week, our school was rocked by the unimaginable–a student attempted to take their life in one of our school bathrooms. 

As a teacher and as a human, this November experience was one of the most difficult things I have ever faced. And, something I never thought I would deal with. As an educator, I had to figure out the best way to help my students cope with the situation while at the same time continue teaching. “Keeping things as normal as possible” helped me and helped my students.

Now, in March 2020, I am faced with another unimaginable teaching experience: distance learning. While I feel more prepared and less rocked than in November, I again needed to figure out how to keep things “as normal as possible.” When our school closed, my classes were in the middle of drafting their text dependent analysis core, a district requirement. Luckily, the day before we left, I told my students, “If we move to distance learning, our core will be put on hold until we return, and we will move into our next unit, Self-Selected Writing (SSW).” For more information on SSW, click here.

In this post, I want to share how I have moved my writing-reading workshop and our self-selected writing to an online course through Canvas (my district’s learning management system). Below are the main components of our workshop that I am implementing this week in order to keep things consistent:

  • Time to read and write
  • Mini-lessons
  • Quick write inspirations
  • Choice
  • One-on-one conferencing
  • Student sharing and collaborating

Daily Plans

To streamline directions, my district asked teachers to post daily updates with the date, topic, overview, tasks, estimated time, and links. While I have swapped out learning targets and agenda to overview and tasks, the overall look of my daily page has stayed intact.

I am also trying to keep our weekly schedule similar even though students should be working on English for only 30 minutes each day. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I allotted time for reading, writing, mini-lessons, and quick write inspirations. Thursday is dedicated to reading workshop, providing students with additional independent reading; time to work with their books in various ways; and the opportunity to share their ideas with classmates. I wanted to digitally replicate our workshop feel as best as I could.

Friday always focuses on SSW with style, craft, and grammar mini-lessons plus workshop time for students to write, conference, and collaborate. Because of distance learning’s limited time, I took out the minilesson. However, if students wanted to read for 10 minutes, they were welcomed to do so. For student conversations, I created discussion board groups based on their table groups in class. They could share their work with their classmates and collaborate through Canvas. At the end of their 30 minutes, students were invited to complete two tasks: submit your weekly quick writing (or SSW) to the assignment for feedback and share your current independent reading book title and page number.

(Since my district went offline on Friday, our SSW day will be moved to Monday, March 23rd)

Below are pictures of my lesson plans for March 17th, March 18th, March 19th, and March 23rd.

Mini-lessons and Directions

PowerPoint has always worked to share text excerpts and mini-lesson notes with my students. I like how easy it is to add and move pictures, and the recording option comes in handy. With distance learning, PowerPoint has helped me compile and share materials. As per our district’s directions, all lessons should review and enrich student knowledge. This approach supports Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s “laps” and “spiral back” practice in 180 Days since we are returning to and extending previously learned concepts.

In our Tuesday mood mini-lesson, I selected a passage from The Children of Virtue and Vengeance (you should read this series!) that illustrates a change in time and mood. For Wednesday, I selected another passage from The Children of Virtue and Vengeance that used imagery. While we analyzed mood and imagery earlier this school year, we have not done so in this capacity. Thursday’s PowerPoint reviewed discussion board expectations and directions. I offered two possible post topics and included student examples of posts and responses. See some of the mini-lesson slides below.

Conferences, Assignments, and Discussion Boards

Reading and writing conferences are vital to our classroom. Being at home, I am missing chatting with my students. To help solve this issue, I turned to Canvas; however, any learning management system, online sharing platform, chat feature, voice recording app, email, etc. will work to digitally conference with your students. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I invited my eighth graders to submit items between the hours of 7:30 am to 2:00 pm for optional feedback and conferencing. Some topics that we discussed were reactions to their independent reading books, their quick writes, answers to or questions about the mini-lessons, and book recommendations.

On Monday’s SSW day, I will ask students to share their writing progress for the week and their book titles and page numbers. In school, I check student reading progress weekly through conferences and page numbers. During distance learning, Thursday’s discussion board replaced my one-on-one and table group conferences so that students and their peers could also talk about books and swap ideas.

With non-graded distance learning assignments and the uncertain circumstances students are facing at home, I cannot control who submits and who does not. Although I have not had one hundred percent participation, 48 students posted to the discussion board on March 19th, and 49 students shared their work during the optional submission days on March 17th  and March 18th. Regardless of participation, my main goal is to offer a “normal” space for students to interact and enjoy their reading and writing.

Closing Thoughts

Even if you have not previously implemented a writing-reading workshop in your class, I believe that this structure or an adapted version of this structure could help you and your students share writing pieces, talk about books, and encourage conversation.

During this past week, I kept returning to Kasey’s words: “Thanks for keeping things as normal as possible.” As I implement distance learning, that is exactly what I am striving to do.

I would love to hear how you are implementing an online writing-reading workshop and what tools you are using to make distance learning a success!

Next week I will share how I am maintaining other classroom practices during distance learning: a moment of pause, daily inspirations, and student leadership.

From the Classroom: The Gift of the Writing-Reading Workshop

Lauren Heimlich Foley

I have learned that helping my students grow as readers, writers, thinkers, and people is the greatest gift I can give them. Choice has always been the most important factor in achieving this gift, but I identified another component this past fall.

Maire Lu, author of the Warcross duology, shared the following insight in “How Marie Lu Found out that Fantasy Books didn’t have to have White Heroes:”

Lu’s interview emphasized what I had read in research articles and seen in best practice presentations: the need for multicultural literature in the classroom. Although this knowledge had influenced the novels I read, taught, and book talked, I observed firsthand the power that books can have on students when they recognize themselves in the authors and characters they read.

Emika Chen, Warcross’s female protagonist, left an indelible imprint on Cynthia, one of my current eighth graders. The student’s name is a pseudonym. As a seventh grader last year, I watched Cynthia grow into a confident, young woman. She developed her voice as a writer and found the confidence to engage in conversations with her teachers and peers. As a returning eighth grader this fall, she read Warcross. This independent reading book fostered a new level of agency that I had not yet seen.

While our reading conferences appeared standard—discussing characters, setting, plot, theme, and craft—the novel’s setting and the characters’ names became particularly interesting to Cynthia. During one of our early conversations, she wanted to clarify the change in setting from New York City to Tokyo, and she brought up how Emika Chen’s name revealed her Chinese ancestry. She also wanted to look up the name Hideo Tanaka in order to pronounce it correctly.

As an avid reader, Cynthia has read, discussed, and analyzed many books since September 2018; however, Warcross was the first book that she voiced her interest in the novel’s setting and the characters’ race. Her interest moved beyond simply reading the book for enjoyment to investigating Lu’s style. By studying and understanding the craft and decisions of a fellow Chinese American writer, Cynthia found her own agency as a writer. Cynthia recognized herself in both the protagonist and author which inspired her to make similar writing choices. This influence became evident during our short story genre study, for Cynthia’s final piece revealed a correlation between Lu’s novel and her own writing.

In Cynthia’s previous writing pieces and school assignments, she left her characters’ races and stories’ settings as ambiguous. While I never thought much about this writerly decision—and perhaps neither did Cynthia—this changed after reading Warcross. Seeing Lu as an empowered Asian female writer and Emika as the representation and extension of that authority inspired Cynthia to develop her own writing in a similar fashion. In the weeks that followed her reading of Lu’s novel, Cynthia spent much time crafting her latest short story with Asian inspired names: Ayane Hiyori, Kaito, Ruka Kanon, and Chika Ronshaku. Moreover, the details she included such as “sakura hair pin” and “red and gold kimono” provided the reader with context clues to help them understand that the story took place in Asia. Not only did Cynthia incorporate Asian names and cultural details into her short story, but also she developed her main character, Chika, with similar director traits as Emika. The more power Chika possessed the more confident Cynthia became. She used her writing as an opportunity to explore her own agency through her protagonist.

The manifestation of Cynthia’s authority did not stop with our short story unit but continued to grow during the weeks that followed. In November, Cynthia brought in Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection and Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection, two Manga books. This marked the first time that she brought in Manga for independent reading. During our reading conferences, we focused on literary elements and craft decisions, and we explored interesting moves made by Ito in terms of the storyline and artwork. Knowing Cynthia is an artist, I asked her if she would be interested in creating her own Manga for her next Self-Selected Writing Piece. Excited about this prospective idea, she shared her Manga with her table partner. Immediately, the two girls became invested in the project. Together they researched drawing tips, began developing possible plotlines, and sketched character ideas. Additionally, the pair brainstormed character names, settling on Ying and Yang for their twin girl protagonists.

With this new writing piece, Cynthia is now sharing her agency with her peers. She is writing herself into existence and finding her real-life director’s role through her ability to create strong Asian female characters. Lu’s work empowered Cynthia to write and discover her own authority in the world.

Choice enabled Cynthia to select books and authors that reflect who she is, yet the invitation to produce and manipulate language gave Cynthia her power. To facilitate my students’ growth, I must support them as they find their voices. This guidance in tandem with choice become the greatest gift the Writing-Reading Workshop can offer, for it allows students like Cynthia to establish who they are and who they wish to become.

How are you empowering your students in your classroom? Please share below!