April 2, 2013

Teacher Tip Tuesday: Writing Workshop Management

One of the things that's very overwhelming for me as an ELA teacher is that there never seems to be enough time to give my students the individual writing feedback they need. When I was teaching ESL, I was blessed to have really small classes (my largest class was 7 students), and I saw tremendous growth in their writing because every assignment had multiple (I'm talking 5 or 6) drafts. I was able to sit with each student and give them mini-lessons on the skills they needed for each round, and they expressed a lot of pride when they compared their first and final drafts.

In a mainstream classroom, though, there are so many more kids and no extra time. Often, this means I'm doing small group mini lessons instead of the individual instruction. While this is definitely a better option than just small group instruction, nothing can really take the place of the specific teacher feedback. Because of this, I try really hard to find time for mini writing conferences during our workshop time.

During writing workshop, I let my students work at their own pace and ask them to check in with me at specific stages in the writing process. To be sure I see every student, I require that they get my signatures on a writing process checklist as they go. Typically during their writing time, I will sit at my small group table and allow students to come to me when they're ready. This lets me do mini lessons with small groups on some days, or I can sit with an individual student and review a paper with him or her.

Quickly, though, I became overwhelmed when students would come to me for a mini-conference while I was already busy working with another student. My table would fill quickly with students just hanging out, waiting for me. As they sat (or stood if the lines were really long), they'd start playing or socializing, causing my conferences to be interrupted with the need to redirect them. Obviously, this was not an effective use of time, so I developed a new management technique on the spot, which is today's Teacher Tip!

When students are ready for a mini-conference, they place their papers in a designated paper and return to their seats. They are required to work on alternative assignments at this time and may not socialize while they wait for me. As soon as I finish a conference, I pull the paper on the bottom of my pile so they don't lose their spot in line. The catch, though, is that when I pull their paper, they have to be 100% on task. If not, their paper goes back to the top of the pile and they have to wait longer.

This was very effective during the past couple weeks of writing instruction as we prepared for the first part of our state test. I was able to work with students without disruption, and my students were motivated to stay on task because they genuinely wanted to benefit from my feedback (or because they wanted the points awarded for my signatures each day).

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