February 25, 2007

Writing classroom tips...

A conversation between Peter and Paul about writing workshop:

Hi Paul, I appreciate the insightful process that you're following with your students. What level do you teach? It sounds like you've developed a strong workshop approach with your students. Do you introduce and teach one trait at a time?

From your feedback, it sounds like your curriculum has a good sense of continuity? How do you get there?!??! Also, I'm interested in using the white board in my classroom. My sense is that it would facilitate sharing and contribute an invaluable visual component to instruction. How have you used it in your classrooms? Obstacles? Successes? What is the ultimate learning curve? Thanks for any help you can offer. Cheers, Peter


Peter, I teach Language Arts and Geography to 7th graders. Last year I was tasked with starting an 8-week "Creative Writing" elective for them. I had no idea what to do other than try to follow Nancie Atwell's In the Middle*, so that's what I did. Most activities I've discussed here come out of that class.

Setting up the class takes time each quarter, which is frustrating since it ends pretty quickly. On the other hand, I get to learn from my mistakes and start over 3 times in one school year. Halfway through my 7th quarter now, I'm getting the hang of it.

The luxury is that I don't have to fit this stuff in with all the other Language Arts content, since that's a separate class. So the kids have 100% freedom of choice on topic selection. And I don't always have to force a schedule on them (and me) like I do teaching Lang.Arts. Organization is NOT one of my strong points, so I like that the structure can be fairly loose. It doesn't get chaotic since the class size is only 15-16 kids.

I intended to start teaching the traits this year, but I haven't felt like I knew the concept well enough to teach it well. So to answer your question, I haven't introduced the traits at all. BUT, since this online class has started, I can't resist working with things that I'm learning. I'll try to do a complete 6-trait delivery for the 4th quarter.

The interactive whiteboard is fantastic for all content areas, particularly with the Internet. Tomorrow, if my writing class needs help with leads, I can have Dennis's lecture and examples up on the board in seconds. One day while reading, a student asked what a rumble seat was. 30 seconds on Google Images, and they see photos from multiple angles, assorted car models, even a Norman Rockwell print.

I'm fairly neutral about technology, neither Supergeek nor Luddite, and I'm totally comfortable using it. And we have a great ET at the school who makes life bearable for the real technophobes. I don't use it as much as many teachers, but I'd hate to go without it. For me the challenge is to keep adding to my skills and creativity with it, and I confess I've been lazy about that lately.

Have I answered what you were asking? As my students know, I can spew out a lot of words without delivering much. I often finish a response to them by saying, "Is that the longest way you've ever heard someone say, 'I don't know' ?" ~ Paul

(This conversation from the Spring 2007 session of Teaching and Assessing Writing with the 6-Traits was used with the author's permission. )

*For more great books about writing see my Writer's Bookshelf!

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