Writer's Workshop

“The perfectionist in me has a really hard time with the fact that writing is messy at first. I want my first draft to read like my last draft, and it doesn’t happen. Writing is rewriting…” - Shannon Messenger, Author of “Keeper of the Lost Cities”

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Understanding the writing process, including rewriting, is critically important when learning how to write. Writers must learn that we can always continue to revise and improve – writing is never really done. The writing process comes to life in MTS lower school classrooms through the Writer’s Workshop. The Workshop has a very specific, structured approach for guiding students through the process of writing, as evidenced in the recent progression in 2nd grade humanities class. During a project that focused on opinion writing, three discrete steps, called "Bends," were introduced. During Bend I of this unit, students learned how to write about some of their favorite books in a way to persuade others to love them as much as they do. The unit kicked off by teaching students how to form opinions about the books they read by thinking deeply about the characters. Students also learned how to state an opinion clearly and support their opinion with evidence.

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Bend II of the unit focused on raising the level of their letter writing. Humanities teacher Rachael Olmanson coached students to engage in close reading as a way to spark new ideas to push themselves to deepen their thinking. Students used Post-it notes to mark the parts of their favorite books that they could elaborate on as evidence in their opinion pieces. The class is currently wrapping up this bend with the students participating in punctuation inquiry and application to incorporate the conventions they notice in published books into their own writing. 

In the final bend, Bend III, students will shift toward writing letters that convince their readers that the books they are reading are worthy of awards. They will also learn how to stretch their thinking and writing by comparing two books. This step-by-step process guides students along, one technique building upon another, allowing them to take what they’ve already written to a deeper level or to build upon what they’ve learned and try writing about a similar topic in a new way.

No matter where students are in the writing process, at the core of Writer’s Workshop is the “mini-lesson,” a ten to fifteen minute teacher led focus on a particular technique or tool for writing that is used in all grade levels. Recently the 5th grade class focused on the mini-lesson, “What makes a quote powerful for opinion writing?” After some class warm ups, Ally Svirsky, 5th grade humanities teacher, gave a personal example to help get the conversation moving, and then the students took the exercise back into the pieces they had already been writing, using quotations to bolster their point.

In later writing assignments, students may or may not use all the writing techniques they are taught in these mini lessons, but they will have these tools in their writer's toolbox to draw upon. Students write every day, practicing and building up a broad range of  essential writing skills. While the interactive mini lessons keep the students excited about writing, they also instill the process of review, rewriting, and revising their work. This practice places little emphasis on the end product and highlights the beauty of enhancing their work. The celebration of writing happens throughout the writing process, as students take the time to share parts of their writing they are proud of. As Rachael puts it “By the end of each unit, students have a plethora of skills they can utilize to better develop their writing. This process has really kept writing exciting and slowed down students from wanting to rush to the “publishing party” at the end. I really love the way it inspires students to outgrow and improve their writing again and again!”