Welcome to Our Writing Space and to the writing journey that I am about to take with my students this coming school year. My name is Sonia and I teach writing as a special to K-5 students in a Title 1 school. The majority of our students speak more than one language. We have over 42 different languages in our school. I was a homeroom teacher for many years before becoming a writing teacher three years ago. During that time I taught all the core subjects, but my passion is teaching reading and writing through a workshop model.
My biggest challenge is that I see my students once every six days for 40 minutes. I’m not able to do anything about the schedule, so I have to think outside the box. I’m a firm believer in the writing workshop model and so I keep trying to develop ways to use its structure within my classes. Homeroom teachers see their students every day so they have the opportunity to work through specific writing programs that are meant to be implemented daily. What can I teach in 40 minutes when I see students on a six day rotation? Surely they won’t remember anything!
After thinking about my students and their out of school habits, I realized that they spend a lot of time watching their favorite weekly TV shows and are able to remember the ins and outs of the different stories. So I decided that I needed to structure my teaching in a bite-size way. By this I mean, I teach bite-size lessons (a little at a time) and I then build on each bite. Keep in mind that the students get most of their writing experience with their homeroom teacher and I’m a support. My goal is to reinforce what they already know about writing, and to help them grow as individual writers.
Writing is such a vast topic and can be overwhelming when trying to think where to start when you want to help students grow as writers. Of course, looking at state standards for writing is one place to begin, but where do you go once you have done that? I decided that at the start of this school year, for grades 3-5, I’m going to put a lot of emphasis on keeping a writer’s notebook.
Why start there? I have observed that when students are given the opportunity to write on self-selected topics, they’ll often say, “I don’t know what to write about!” In writing workshop students are encouraged to choose their own topics, which is great, but if they don’t know how to come up with ideas they’re lost. Before students can write anything they need to have some ideas. They need to have writing ideas at their fingertips!
I see a Writer’s notebook as . . .
a place to hold thinking, ideas and thoughts,
to try new things, a place to practice, to revisit ideas,
a tool to support writing, and
When I taught fifth grade, at the beginning of each school year I always centered the first writing workshop lesson around students personalizing their individual writer’s notebook. I would explain that the purpose of the notebooks and we would use them throughout the year, but they were never seen as a meaningful tool. I would also start a writer’s notebook, but would often abandon it because of the pressure to complete other necessary teaching duties. I’d be in the do as I say, not as I do mode, but this year I want to say, “We’re doing this together!” So my goal is to keep a writer’s notebook and write alongside my students for the entire school year.