Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Several years ago I was teaching in a second grade classroom. My students were fairly good writers and liked to write, or so I thought. I had the opportunity through All Write to study under JoAnn Portalupi. After my first session with her I came back to the classroom excited to share what I had learned about workshop. I gathered the children around me and told them that we would be doing something different when we wrote. They would now have a choice about what they wrote. Their reaction? They cheered. Yes, cheered. Here I had thought they loved to write. Well, they did, but they didn’t like me telling them what to write.
When students join a writers workshop they see themselves as writers, not just someone who completes an assignment for a teacher. I have heard children say things like: “I write like Gail Gibbons,” when they are doing nonfiction books. First graders write on their papers: “written and illustrated by….” Then there was the second grade boy who came into the year thinking he couldn’t write, but left signing his papers: “by Eric the author”. This happens because teachers create a place where students can walk in the shoes of writers every day.

As a child I often played the pretend game of “Place To Make Things”. This was a made-up game where my friend and I would make all sorts of things. We made perfume by crushing flowers. We made stationery by stamping blank paper and we even tried to make a bird house from left over scrap wood. This was our workshop. The reason I loved that game so much was the fact that I got to choose what I was going to make. That is why children love workshop…they get to choose. The teacher sets up the structure, but allows the students plenty of choice. It is amazing to watch a child of any age have a vision for what they want their piece to look like when they are done. This could be a poem for their mother, a narrative for their grandfather about their last fishing trip, or a persuasive piece to talk the principal into allowing soda for lunch. They know their audience and they know how to craft it for the most influence.

While in the classroom, I worried about the children really learning grammar. Would they learn it if I didn’t give them worksheets? We used our own writing to hit the grammar standards. My mini lessons focused on the conventions of language: punctuation, spelling, grammar. I accessed their published writing for these conventions. Instead of just learning the mechanics of language in isolation, they were now able to use it in authentic forms. I now knew they did learn grammar through the workshop setting.

The most powerful reason for workshop is that it gives children a voice. They have the tools to make a difference in their world. A fourth grade boy summed it all up in this poem that tells about what his life is like. It was a chance for him to share his inner most feelings, and that is why we have workshop.


Outside can be dangerous,
Screaming, crying, hollering.
Outside can be dangerous,
Dealers, robbers, junkies.
Outside can be dangerous,
Guns, drugs, stealing.
Outside can be dangerous,
But I am going to live.


Sarah Amick said...

Yes, yes, yes!
I agree. (knowing nod included)

debrennersmith said...

It is so awesome when kids leave as readers and writers. Joann and her husband, Ralph Fletcher, are two of my favorite authors. Ralph was one of the people who encouraged me to write my newest book. Both of these writers have impacted me personally. I was pleased to read about your classroom and how they are impacting you. I read your blog daily. It is fun to see a a new posting. www.debrennersmith.com