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Posts tagged ‘Writing-Reading Workshop’

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!