The following is an excerpt from A Guide to the Writing Workshop, K–2, part of the Units of Study in Writing, K–2. The Guide is a component of the Units of Study in Writing, K–2 boxed sets.
Writers need time to write.
Children need time to write. Granted, giving kids fifty minutes a day, every day, to write will not be easy. In the overcrowded hodgepodge curriculum of today, with everyone adding more and more things for you to squeeze into your day, it can be brutally hard to make time for children to write. Yet doing so is the single most important thing you can do for your kids as writers.
Everything important, meaningful, and beautiful takes time. Writers need time to generate ideas and content, to imagine how the text might go, to rehearse, to draft, to reread and rethink and revise, to learn from feedback, to edit. Children also need time to combat anxieties, to dare to take risks, to rise to the moment.
Building Writing Volume and Confidence
Designating time for a writing workshop is an important start, but it is also important that during that block of time, children actually produce lots of writing. Only when children get into the swing of producing lots of writing will their writing carry the sound of a human voice, will the writer elaborate, write with detail, and grow new insights through writing. Just as fluency matters to readers, being able to write with volume matters for writers. If writing feels like chiseling in marble for students—if it takes five minutes to write a single sentence—it is unlikely they’ll develop their potential as writers. Learning to write, like learning to play baseball or to swim, only happens when the learner has lots of time to practice.
Giving Time to Writing Creates Dramatic Results
I can promise that if you prioritize writing, and if kids actually write during your writing time, then you’ll see dramatic results. When my colleagues and I help school leaders visit writing classrooms to give teachers critical coaching, we show them that it is important to look beyond the published writing on the wall. They need to open up the writing folders to take into account the sheer amount of writing a student has done today, yesterday, the day before. When students date each day’s writing and collect all their writing until the unit is complete, it is easy to track the volume of writing each student produces each day. By mid-year, first-graders generally write a three-page book almost every day, with four or five sentences on a page; that’s four books a week. Second-graders are apt to write a five-page booklet across two days, with more like ten lines of writing on each page.
When a writing workshop is taught with passion and power, and when it is treated as a subject deserving of the same time that reading and math are given, then the writing workshop creates dramatic results. Children’s writing soars—and the workshop invigorates your entire school day—creating intimacy between you and your students,
between your students and each other, and altering the entire learning culture in your classroom.
Making Time for Writing: A Typical Schedule of a Workshop Classroom
There is no question that incorporating a writing workshop into your schedule will take purposeful planning. Each of you will need to design your schedule so that it is aligned to the school, district, and sometimes state standards and expectations, as well as to your values and your children’s interests and needs. The schedule will be somewhat different in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. As children grow older, disciplines such as social studies, science, and math will be given more time, and choice will be given less time.
Children not only need to write, they also need direct, explicit instruction in the skills and qualities of effective writing.