Lyndi Maxwell, PhD
This article describes how teachers can use manipulatives, visual aids, and poetry to help students navigate a process-approach writer’s workshop. The workshop is presented as being analogous to how a squirrel navigates an oak tree, as the squirrel represents the writer, each part of the oak tree represents a stage of the writing process, each acorn represents an element of writing, and the harvested acorn collection represents the finished piece of writing. A rhyming verse accompanies each stage serving as a reminder of what each stage entails. The workshop includes the following six stages: 1) rehearse; 2) write; 3) receive; 4) revise; 5) publish; and 6) share. Each stage is discussed individually in terms of: 1) writing activities; 2) an example of how to apply each stage to whole-class interactive writing; and 3) an example of how one student applied each stage to his own work as he transitioned from interactive to independent writing.
“I’m done!” “I already checked it.” “Nothing needs fixed.” Writing time seemed to sound an alarm of restless third-graders hurriedly making these claims. Discouragement would immediately set in, as I knew it wasn’t “done”, they hadn’t “checked it”, and a lot of things needed “fixed!” I wondered why, even after modeling and interactively writing our way through the writing process, students consistently struggled to retain and execute it. It was spelled out so clearly and sequentially to me: 1) pre-write, 2) write, 3) revise, 4 ) teacher conference, 5) edit, and 6) publish. Where was the disconnect?
Eventually, the work of writing research pioneers such as Don Graves (1983), Nancy Atwell (1998), and Lucy Calkins (2003) illuminated my mistakes. I had not made writing the predictable, recursive process that students needed. Instead, I had expected them to take leaps and make assumptions that, without explicit instruction, guided practice, and specific feedback, are not developmentally realistic for third-graders. Specifically, I had expected them to read their own writing, find fault within their own writing, and revise it into something that was “good enough” for me. They had no conceptual understanding of the writing process, and I had been conflating my “teaching” writing to their actual “learning” of it. In reality, our “writing process” looked more like this: 1) student writes something, 2) reads it to me, 3) I edit it and return it, and 4) students neatly rewrites draft, having produced a final piece that showed no noticeable growth from the original one. It had become to feel more like my grade than theirs, and problematically, I had allowed it to become more of a transaction rather than the transformation I had envisioned.
My students needed writing instruction opposite of what I had been giving them. They needed to write within a systematic framework to understand that writing is not a transaction, but a transformation in which they see their thoughts and ideas take shape and unfold. They needed to understand that writing is enhanced through social interaction via peer conferences, teacher conferences, and also through individual reflection. Most importantly, they needed to experience the sense of pride that comes with seeing how far one’s writing has progressed.
While the writing workshop I implemented is derived from the seminal work of Graves (1983), Atwell (1998), and Calkins (2003), it supplements their work in that it provides students with a predictable, comprehensive visual display of the writing process. Moreover, it combines visual, auditory, and tactile modes of learning (See Figure 1). For instance, students visually see each stage of the writing process, which provides a sense of comfort and understanding of where s/he has been, where s/he is currently at, and what s/he must do in order to progress to the next stage. Students benefit from accompanying rhyming verses, which signify the writing expectations at each stage, while they also move a squirrel around an oak tree as a representation of oneself progressing through each stage of the writing process. Please note that the intent here is to guide students in understanding the stages of the writing process, rather than an in-depth how-to guide to enhance the quality of students’ writing.
The purpose of this article is to share how in a rural Midwest, general education classroom I implemented a process-approach writer’s workshop complete with the aforementioned visual, auditory, and tactile components to guide twenty-one third-grade students through the writing process. A research and theory section first underscores the importance of early childhood writing and briefly describes the workshop’s theoretical framework. This is followed by a description of the workshop’s conceptual model, and proceeded by the “Writer’s Workshop” section, in which the following six stages are discussed: 1) rehearse; 2) write; 3) receive; 4) revise; 5) publish; and 6) share. While it is understood that the writing process is recursive rather than linear and not every student will progress through the workshop in exactly the same manner, in the interest of clarity, each stage is discussed sequentially in terms of: 1) the writing activities; 2) an example of how to apply each stage to whole-class interactive writing; and 3) an example of how one student applied each stage to his own work as he transitioned from interactive to independent writing.