Can I share today? I want to share. Me too, me too! The clamoring for attention was driving me crazy. Ten minutes into our workshop and students who had barely begun putting pen to page were angling for a coveted spot in the author’s chair. Our writing share was in desperate need of restructuring.
Here are some of the symptoms:
Every child wants to share, even when their writing is incomplete.
Writers are more invested in sharing their writing than in doing the work of writing.
Writers don’t feel satisfied sharing an excerpt from their writing; they want the entire piece read—and I question if they see the connection between what they have written and the teaching point.
Compliments start to get repetitive and generic as the audience stops listening or isn’t invested.
Status dynamics interfere with the writing share—friends complimenting friends instead of writers complimenting strengths in writing.
Fewer emergent writers have the opportunity to share, or emergent writers are reluctant to share.
Writers need the affirmation of sharing their writing more frequently than time allows.
We needed more writers to share writing more frequently, but I wanted to keep the share purposeful, the selected work focused and connected to the minilesson or mid-workshop teaching point so our workshop was cohesive. I wanted to increase student reflection, conversation, and accountability. I wanted to build shared investment in our writing community. I stopped accepting student requests to share and started playing around with different structures for our reflection.
When most writers are needing attention or I want to highlight strengths in planning and picture support, I ask writers to look through what they have written that day to find a powerful illustration from their writing. Writers gather in a circle and hold their illustrations out at chest level so everyone’s work is seen at once. We take a few quiet minutes to look around the circle to think about what stands out. I ask one question to focus thinking on a particular aspect: “How does this picture help tell the story?” “Where do you see action in these illustrations? “Where do you see important details?” “Where do you see strong feelings?” Then writers are invited to share specific compliments for an illustration they see across the circle.
When time is limited or when I want to use the share as an opportunity to check in on where writers are in their understanding of the teaching point, I select one small aspect and ask everyone to share. If we are working on stretching out the sounds to write with more descriptive words, I might ask, “What powerful word were you brave enough to write?” If we were focused on developing structure, I invite writers to share the first line, the last line, the moment when the character discovers a problem, or a part where they have used a pattern. Each writer rereads what they have written that day to find one sentence or word to share around the circle. Then we notice collective strengths and share compliments for the whole group.
There are few things harder for first-grade writers than to cross out and revise writing they have worked hard to get onto the page. To support students in embracing revision, I ask them to share the first draft of a sentence or section and the revised version. Then the listeners describe what improved in the writing. After modeling this in a whole-group share, I invite writing partners or writing triads/quads to share simultaneously.
Highlight the Heart
When I’m noticing that students are reluctant to remove unnecessary repetition and revision seems to result in longer and longer writing pieces, I pass around highlighters and invite writers to find the line that is the heart of their story—the part that shows what really matters or that they want every reader to remember. Each writer is invited to reread their writing and highlight their favorite line. Then they share the line with the writers sitting next to them. I ask students to share a line they heard (not one they wrote themselves) that was powerful or memorable and what made it so effective.
Name Your Goal
During a boisterous workshop—when I start to wonder if the sound has escalated beyond a productive working bustle—I pause the group and ask them to consider what they are working on. “When you think about yourself as a writer, what are you working on right now? How are you growing?” Students write their goals on a sticky note or in the margin of their writing and box it in. I remind them that we will be looking for evidence of their work toward goals in our share. When our workshop concludes, they gather in a circle next to writing partners, reread their writing, and find a place that shows their work toward the goal. They share goals and evidence with partners. I ask, “Who saw powerful evidence of a partner’s growth as a writer today?” and we celebrate a few specific examples.
What Are You Wondering?
When the group is feeling a little stuck or out of sync, I ask, “What are you wondering about your writing or yourself as a writer?” Without gathering in a circle I ask a student to share his or her question. Then I ask the whole group, “Who else would like to wonder about that?” and those students move together to form a small group. The next student offers a question, and interested writers join him or her. We repeat the process until everyone has a small group to talk with.
When we need to generate more energy and enthusiasm for writing, I ask students to bring a victory to the rug—something they accomplished during that workshop that took effort and bravery, or something that went really well for them. Then we pass a glitter-wand talking stick around the circle for those who want to share one victory. (I started writing after I felt stuck. I used positive self-talk and told myself, You can do it. I figured out the ending and finished my story.)
Partner Quad Author’s Chair
Rather than the whole group meeting to listen to one writer, students gather in partnerships or quads to read and respond to their writing. Each student who wants to can read their writing and then the listeners give a specific, helpful, or kind compliment—or ask a question. If time allows, we gather back with the whole group to reflect on what they heard.
Varying the reflection structure has created different entry points and openings for each writer to engage in a way that feels comfortable. Students are accountable to each other and feel motivated to give helpful feedback because they appreciate receiving it. Writers are less frantic about having their turn in the author’s chair because their writing is being seen by more readers and they are receiving feedback more frequently. I’m no longer stressed about tracking who has and hasn’t had a turn to share and instead can focus on making sure opportunities for reflection are equitable and writers each have the support they need to see the strength in their writing and feel successful. During the last lingering minutes of our workshop, writers don’t want it to end—and even as they line up for recess, I hear the whispered exchange of compliments and appreciation for the growth they are witnessing in each other.