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On the Podcast: Writing Workshop Essentials with Katie Wood Ray, Katherine Bomer, and Corinne Arens

Writing Workshop Essentials Podcast Two

How can we create daily structures and routines that support writers?

Today on the podcast we're joined by Heinemann author and Classroom Essentials series editor Katie Wood Ray. We're also joined by Katherine Bomer and Corinne Arens, co-authors of the newest Classroom Essentials book, A Teachers Guide to Writing Workshop Essentials: Time, Choice, Response.

Download a sample chapter of A Teacher's Guide to Writing Workshop Essentials

Guided by the research-based belief that children learn to write best when provided a predictable, daily writing structure, Katherine and Corinne introduce the basics of Writing Workshop, and suggest small, incremental steps towards implementing them.

Below is a transcript of this episode.

Katie: So I'm here today talking with Katherine Bomer and Corrine Arens about their book in the classroom essentials series, A Teacher's Guide to Writing Workshop Essentials: Time, Choice, Response, really focusing in on those three things. Yes. Congratulations to you both on having the book out in the world for a while now. And I just want to get right to talking about it.

It is very focused on those three essentials: Time, choice, and response. And those are big idea concepts and yet I'm struck by how much incredibly practical support there is in the book. It's not a theoretical book, even though it's very grounded in the theory that that's what writers need. So, I wonder if you could each just say which practical part of the book are you most excited about and do you think will help teachers a lot?

Katherine: I love that question.

Corinne: Wow. Yeah, that's a great one. Katherine, do you want to go first?

Katherine: Aren't you sweet. I definitely have my choice and I also have my choice for you. How about that?

Corinne: Okay, okay.

Katherine: Talk about taking away choice.

Well, okay, let me just say that I think you helped so much in the time session because you were so deeply embedded in actual schools. I don't have the opportunity of being in a school every day and you are in schools, multiple schools, every day. And so you're really are right in the heart of dealing with a school schedule and time and noticing what teachers have and feel that they don't have and what are some of the answers for that in terms of crafting a special uninterrupted bubble of time, that we call it in our book, for writing. So does that feel like something you would like to talk about or have I totally taken away your choice?

Corinne: No, I do think that ... Well, thank you for that first of all. And I do think that time ... I was actually going to talk about the different ideas that we give them in terms of writing partnerships.

So, that was actually the first thing that came to my mind. So, if I could speak to that first and then I can circle back around to time, would that be okay?

Katherine: Yes, please.

Corinne: The work that I ended the year in Blue Springs this spring was so centered on writing partnerships. And what I found is that there's a misconception that they are like peer editors. And so then we have second graders who are trying to edit someone else's writing, and that doesn't really seem fruitful all the time. But it also gets to be a little bit deficit thinking in terms of, "Oh, well, I've got to pair people by ability. I've got to have a low writer talking to the high writer." And when we think about it in terms of us correcting each other's work.

And so we really, what I'm so excited about, and every time that I was in a classroom, I was like, "Man, I wish the book we're outside could give teachers these resources of just how to teach kids how to speak to someone as a partner within their writing." So, I really love that part of the book. And I feel like that's going to be really helpful to teachers as we start to continue to grow our writing partnerships or to launch them. If you've never had kids write or talk to each other about their writing. I love the dialogue and the talking stems in that part of the book.

Katie: Something I was thinking about in relation to this question too, is in section on choice, I think you really open up the idea of all the different ways that kids can have choice and it really got me to thinking about how hard it is to teach writing as a process if kids don't have choices. If you just tell them what to do, there's nothing to teach into. And so really the heart of teaching, the process of writing, is giving kids choices and I think it really illuminates that in a powerful way.

Katherine: Well, yes, our choice section is rich. It is rich with possibilities. We just pushed on each other's brains and looked around at all the classrooms and just said, "What are the multitudinous ways that we can give choice over to kids?" And choice means more than ... The first thing to think about, of course, is the utter importance of topic choice when kids are writing about what they want to write about, even if it's things that don't necessarily interest us as adults, as teachers, or things that we think are not really school appropriate, like video games. When we let kids choose that to write about, it's as if you all gave them red bull for a snack. They suddenly are on fire to write.

And that just makes sense, that when you're writing about something that brings you joy, you're going to want to do it. But besides topic choice, we just found all these amazing different ways that kids make choices of where to sit and who to sit with and how to sit. Literally some kids are on their bellies on the floor and then just choice being also the ability to make decisions.

So, there's choice/decision-making. So making a decision of what genre do I want to write in, and if I'm writing a poem, for instance, do I want it to be all one chunk of words? One big block of, of words, that's one way poems can look. Or do I want to put white space in between 20 different stanzas?

There are just a million different decisions to make as a writer, including when am I finished? And so in classic traditional classrooms, when you were handed a product, there was definitely a task, an assignment, and a time that you were supposed to be finished. I've just recently been going through boxes of old ancient pieces of paper from my mom's attic or the garage or something, I think. I'm, first of all, moved that she kept these pieces of student class work all the way from kindergarten, because they're really, really boring. Because all they are is spelling words and handwriting practice over and over and over. And there's nothing to look at to see a person in there. I'm like, who was I when I was a child? All I was was copying and getting a grade on it.

And so with, with student writing, when choice is there, you read student work and you feel like, "I hear you. I see you. I can find a person inside there because you have the personality of the child there." I totally lost track of your initial question, Katie.

Corinne: I think I can circle it back around because what she said was ... When I felt a, "Oh yes" moment when you were talking, Katie, was when you said, "There's nothing really to teach into." When we make all the choices for the kids, then it's just an act of compliance. Can they follow directions is essentially what I'm assessing. Not really tapping into their compositional thinking. And so that was the thing that struck me more than anything. And Katherine, all of those handwriting sheets and things, manuscript has a place in the world and everyone needs a John Hancock.

However, if we're really talking about compositional thinking, that's not giving us intel. That's not a formative assessment. That's strictly just, can they do it or can they not? And no wonder you would shy away ... I would shy away from teaching writing if that's what I felt like my writing instruction was.

Katie: And you have this gorgeous ending. "I'm the kind of writer who ..." That really shines a spotlight on these two young boys who've been co-authoring, Jackson and Tate. Choice is also the essence of identity. If you don't have any choices, you don't have an opportunity to know yourself in that particular way.

Katherine: Exactly.

Katie: And it's really what it all comes down to, isn't it? Is kids being able to walk away from this process with a sense of who they are in the world when it comes to writing. So, I think that's really powerful.

Katherine: So the section on response is another really rich section because we talk about response being not only from the teacher in the form of conferring, but also from peers in the classroom, the writing partnerships, and from certainly audiences that we can invite in with celebrations of writing and also now of course we are learning so much about how to be online and sharing our writing online. So many kids are going to come into the classroom in August and say, "I've got this. I am sharing my writing to someone in Egypt. So, I'm good with this." But the conferring piece is I want to just give a nod to the books that have come before mine, both Katie, your book with Lisa Cleveland, and also Carl Anderson's book on conferring and writing, and also Jen Serravallo's book on conferring and reading.

So there is a lot of information and a lot of great resources out there about conferring. But one thing that I love about our book, the part about conferring has wonderful videos attached to it for conferring. And what I love about those videos is that I think that I would share those videos right now with the parents that I know who are trying to homeschool, the parents who are reaching out to me and saying, "How do you do this? I have respect for teachers now, because I can't even ... How do you talk to your kids about writing without showing them that they don't have periods in their writing?" Which is, of course, what most adults think of when they think about talking to children about their writing, they think they've got to correct it. Correct the spelling and make sure that they put their periods and capitals, and that's all super important, yes. But it is not how to talk to kids about writing.

And so I think the videos in the book are really little visions for what conferring can look and sound like. And they are about, specifically, they show the kind of tone that we want to have with our kids, the kind of leaning in and number one, listening, the number one thing to do when you're with a child who's writing is to listen to what they're saying about their writing and how to ask open ended questions like, "What are you working on your writing? Talk to me about your writing." And how to talk about kids' writing process, what they're thinking and the decisions they're making as they write. Rather than just going straight for, "You need paragraphs."

And that's a very hard. I have all empathy and understanding for that being the first thing that comes into your mind when you're with a child, because that's how we were all taught and so of course it's the default position. But I think the videos and the information that's inside the book around conferring is going to help people, help teachers and parents if they want to check out the book, really know just how to just relax and lean in and listen to their children talk about writing.

Katie: And you mentioned, let's talk about the videos for a minute. Because there are 15 videos connected to this book, all of which captured in your district, Corrine. And actually, I was just looking at the overview. Really only three of them are your exquisite conferences with children. Every time I watched those, I just think I wish every child in the world could sit next to you, Katherine. [crosstalk 00:12:36]

But the other videos are different. They're not like the normal videos that are attached to a book. We've got a video that's about prioritizing time. We have one that's about the value of response. One about teaching into small group work. And can you just talk a little bit about your vision for the videos? What you hope they do? How they are different from more traditional videos about teaching?

Corinne: Well, I don't know, Katherine feel free to jump in, obviously, but I just feel like so much of this, if I could just see it and I could see what was possible, then I could so much more easily translate it into my own classroom. And I think that that is the gift of how these videos are crafted. They are in the moment. They are real time. They give such a strong ... I don't know another word than visual of what this can look like, when is it living and breathing within a classroom, what does it look like?

And I think that-

Katie: And across classrooms, that's one of the things that strikes me, right? It's not just a single classroom. You show routines in action in kindergarten and routines in action in sixth grade.

Corinne: Yes. And it's so funny to me. Thank you for highlighting that. Because I live in such a vertical world. I could be in kindergarten in the morning and then third grade and then back to kindergarten and fifth grade and first grade. And so I live in a vertical world, but that is exactly ... The gift of my job is embedded within those classrooms in terms of seeing things in and out of all different classrooms.

And it also, what I love about the videos, is that each of our teachers, you can feel a sense of continuity in what they are doing, but it is so individualized to who they are as teachers. And so I love the different, the ways that we've been able to capture that you can own this and it can look however you need it to look within your classroom and put your own stamp on it, but still knowing that you are valuing the principles of what we know to be true for writers. I think that's beautifully showcased within the videos.

Katherine: I absolutely agree with that. Going in, we really wanted to include so many different styles. Just so teachers know they can be themselves. We wanted for people watching the videos to know, "Oh, so I can be the kind of teacher who stumbles over her words a little bit." Or, "I could be the kind of teacher who every sentence that comes out of my mouth feels completely focused."

You can hear my own language, how it stumbles a little bit, and I'm that kind of person when I speak out loud. But there are other people who don't talk like that. And that's okay. We all have our different personalities and styles of teaching. And we were trying to capture that.

But also the main thing about the videos that I want to say is that they are fun to watch. They're actually little tiny mini Ken Burns documentaries. They've got-

Katie: Actually, they're Michael Grover documentaries.

Katherine: Yes, of course. Thank you, yay, Katie. Yes. Shout out to Michael Grover.

Katie: The wizard of documentary work at Heinemann.

Katherine: He is. He's a magician. But he put together these from a ton of raw footage. But what we knew we wanted was we have a couple that you could watch as just a straightforward mini lesson or straightforward conference and also there are ones that are more like that are like a vision. They're visionary, they're around big ideas. There's one about writing notebooks, and so you just get this vision and all the possibilities for what writing notebooks can be and look like along with a little bit of music in the background.

And we've got amazing teachers talking about their teaching. Oh my goodness. I love their testimonials. We've got children talking about their writing.

Corinne: The children's testimonials, oh.

Katherine: They'll melt your heart. And all of that's put together in these very small, easy to digest it, easy to watch, little movie-ettes.

Katie: Another feature that I really appreciate in the book, you have spotlights on both beginning writers and also bilingual and multilingual writers. What is it that you would most want readers to understand about those particular writers in their classrooms?

Katherine: Well, this was a big decision to add this feature into the book because we have to. There's nothing that I do in my work anymore that does not include or try to include everyone who sits in our classroom. That's just a mission in my life and I know it's a mission in Corrine's life also. And so we wanted to make sure it was a part of the book.

We make sure to give a nod, or what we call take a bow, to people who are more informed about teaching multilingual students than we are. But we also wanted to make sure that we can again, bring back to these foundational ideas and say, "Once again, these work for everyone." I will argue with anyone who says, "But these kids can't, or my kids can't because, fill in the blank." Because they're this or they're that, or we live here, or we live there.

No. The answer is always time, choice and response. And so, one thing we argue is that actually one thing we know from research and experience is that people who are learning another language, learning English as another language, need time. They need time to be using that language. And so in the writing workshop, kids have time to both write and talk a lot about what they're working on. And that is going to help anybody learning English as another language.

Kids who have choice of what to write about and so feel comfortable writing about their abuela or writing about whatever is important to them in their home life or their school life, are going to feel more comfortable trying out English because they have the choice. And kids who have encouraging response through conferring and peers and audiences are going to just want to keep trying and wanting to do better and learning more than if we just handed them a worksheet and said, "Fill in a line."

I'm just going back to those wrinkled moldy papers I've been finding in these boxes. These fill in the blanks with the correct phonetical word. It was okay for me. I managed to make 100s or 92s, but that one made me cry. But think about the difference between that, sitting in a classroom and doing that, or sitting in a classroom and being able to write about the party that you're having on Saturday with all your family coming over and how you're going to celebrate together and being able to use words that you do know in your own language. And that that's good and okay as far as learning language in the writing workshop.

Corinne: Yeah. And I would say that this is the most important part of the book in so many ways, because this work is universal. And just like Katherine said, for the multilingual students, there feels a need to over scaffold. And when we over scaffold, we are not truly understanding what they are capable to do if we didn't scaffold. And there's a fear that if we don't, so we're like preemptively rescuing them, right. Like I'm going to give you the graphic organizer because I think it will make it easier for you. And I'm assuming that this is going to be what you need when really, when we engage the children with the time to tell us what they know, and responding in a way that's not right or wrong, so many of the kids in some of these settings feel as if they're not good at X, Y, and Z. And this work allows them to be successful in ways that perhaps they haven't had a chance to feel in other areas. So, I think it's one of the most important parts of the book.

Katie: Okay. One last question. This book is beautiful to look at.

Corinne: It feels gorgeous.

Katie: And one of the most beautiful things is it's just filled with really exquisitely beautiful student writing. And it occurs to me when I just do sort of a flip through of that writing, is that there's a message there. There's something to take away from all the student writing in this book. And I wonder in your own words, what do you hope the message of all the student writing that I see in this book is for readers?

Katherine: Can I say the first thing I want is for people to be delighted by student writing. The two boys that you talk about, Katie, at the very end, Tate and Jackson. When Corrine and I first encountered the writing that they're talking about, these little tiny, teensy, tiny chapter books. They're just little, teeny, tiny, not even three by five size. And though they were writing those on their own and by the dozens, and the teacher brought them to the library and we're all standing around reading them to each other. And we were cracking up.

Adults after school reading students chapter books and cracking each other up. We were just delighted by the writing. And that's the first thing I would love people looking through this book and looking at the student writing is to just take delight in the humor, the originality, the creativity, the things that they write about that you would never in a million years think to write about. If we told them what to write about, never would we have anything as delightful as these little tiny chapter books that Tate and Jackson create.

Corinne: And that's one of the time savers, Katherine, is you're done having to search for the cutest newest thing because kids will not disappoint. Kids will always be more creative and have cooler things to say, then whatever we can find.

But this is what I want to say on behalf of the children. If the kids within these pages could talk to the audience, I think they would say things like this: We are here, we are capable, and we will knock your socks off given the opportunity.

So, get out of our way a little bit.

Katherine: Yeah.

Corinne: Honor the big principles and let us shine. I feel like if the kids could talk, those are some of the things they would say.

Katie: Oh, that's beautiful.

Katherine: That is beautiful.

Katie: I love that.

Katie: Well, thanks you too, again. Thanks to you both. Congratulations to you both. It's a beautiful book. I'm just so happy to have it as a new classroom essentials book. I think it absolutely fulfills the mission of these books, which is to bring people into foundational work, remind people about what is foundational about the work they've been doing for years. So, I'm thrilled that it's out in the world.


Learn more about The Teacher's Guide to Writing Workshop: Time, Choice, and Response at Heinemann.com

Download a sample chapter of A Teacher's Guide to Writing Workshop Essentials

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katherinebomerKatherine Bomer, author of The Journey Is Everything, Hidden Gems, and Starting with What Students Do Best, is one of the field’s most gifted writers as well as one of its most gifted teachers of writing. In more than two decades of teaching and consulting, she has used her writers’ eye to focus on how craft isn’t just an instructional goal but an instructional tool that allows writers to grow well beyond the range of most publicly available assessments. An internationally-known consultant and frequent keynote speaker, Katherine began her consulting career with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. In addition to Writing a Life, she is the coauthor of the Heinemann title For a Better World (with Randy Bomer) and delivers on-site PD through Heinemann Professional Development Services.

A published poet and essayist, Katherine is also coauthor (with Lucy Calkins) of A Writer’s Shelf. She began over fifteen years ago as a professional developer with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. A classroom teacher for ten years, she now works with teachers in elementary and middle schools throughout the country. As a frequent speaker at conferences and institutes, she combines a teacher’s practical advice, a writer’s love of language, and a powerful plea for social justice.


corinnearensCorinne Arens, Ed.D., is a district-level Instructional Coach for Writing in the Blue Spring School District, Blue Springs, Missouri. She is a teacher consultant for the Greater Kansas City Writing Project and has served on multiple state-level committees.



katiewoodray-1For many years as the author of bestselling Heinemann books such as About the Authors, Study Driven, Already Ready, and In Pictures and In Words, and as a member of Heinemann’s Professional Development Services, Katie Wood Ray gave teachers resources and PD that transformed writing instruction and helped children discover a lifelong love of writing.

In 2014, Katie “moved to the other side of the desk” and joined the dynamic team of editors at Heinemann where she works closely with authors to craft powerful professional books on a range of literacy topics. Katie is also the series editor for the new Classroom Essentials books from Heinemann. Tasked with bringing foundational, progressive practices to a new generation of teachers, Katie works to ensure that the sharp focus and enhanced design of each book best serve the content. She also teamed up with her longtime collaborator, Lisa Cleaveland, to write one of the first books in the series, A Teacher’s Guide to Getting Started with Beginning Writers. 

You can find her on Twitter at @KatieWoodRay

Topics: Classroom Essentials, Podcast, Writing, Writing Workshop, Heinemann Podcast, Katherine Bomer, Katie Wood Ray, The Classroom Essentials Series, A Teacher's Guide to Writing Workshop, Corinne Arens

Date Published: 07/23/20

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