In previous years, when I’ve taught writing (after leaving the elementary TCRWP curriculum I was initially trained in), we used an approach called Genre Practice, designed by Cynthia McCallister, who was then a coach at the school where I taught. It was radical in its simplicity — remove direct instruction, teach genre as an expression of their purpose and intentions to convey a message to authors — thus genres are developed by authors and therefore malleable, rather than perfected.
In moving on from this method, my colleagues and I are developing an approach to the writer’s workshop — Writers Studio — that seeks to emphasize the choice and decisions of the individual writer while expanding on the instructional decisions teachers make in response to what they see students doing. Because we teach newcomers, we also wanted to prioritize starting with students’ strengths, which means open choice and emphasize the social-emotional support that writing can create space for, which matters a lot when teaching students who may have experienced trauma.
One major change was the writing share. In the way we implemented TCRWP at the elementary school where I taught, the teacher would choose students who exemplified the genre or instructional goals of that day. In the way we implemented Genre Practice, the emphasis was on authentic writing and the student sharing an in-progress draft. The Share there was another way to build the ability of all writers to give feedback, and we scheduled everyone to share, 2 per day.
In my old school, a whole class share was a big deal — the student was required to stand in front of the room and share their draft, reading it aloud. It was seen as a way to promote equity of voices. However, Emergent Bilinguals would often feel very hesitant and were unwilling to share in front of their English-dominant peers for fear of ridicule or out of fear of simply exposing their newer skills. They’d hear feedback about their spelling or grammar, and it would leave them feeling ashamed rather than empowered. The approach by the teacher in response to this was to ask students to encourage the sharer or, in some cases, when the student outright refused, teachers treated it as problematic/oppositional behavior. As a result, students would often refuse a writing conference because they knew it meant they would have to share the following class.
The Writing Share: A symbol of new beginnings & community
In our approach, the share is still essential, but we do it differently. First, inspired by Liz Prather in her book Project-Based Writing, I began the year with my 12th graders with “fireside shares” where we sat in a circle in the back of the room, with the overhead lights off and students choosing to share on the spot, no pressure.
In each class, the same way you might create general rules for behavior, we co-created shared audience expectations. For example:
Every time, at least 4 students volunteer to share. No one is required, but I use conferences as a way to motivate and encourage students to see the worth in their ideas and how we all benefit from the share. They essentially get to rehearse with me, where I act as audience.
As students got deeper into their writing, we paused this whole-period, whole-class share because I wanted students to have more time to write and get conferences. So, we used team shares instead — I grouped students heterogeneously with some input from them since it was the first time we did it. Once they experience the purpose, they will be able to do table shares with whomever they choose.
Whether small group or whole class, a writer’s share should be equitable in deed and not just word.Tweet
That means understanding the student as a writer and creating share opportunities that support them in sharing — whatever that means to them. Just as with the writing, the author must have a say in designing their share experience.
For example, letting students choose “performers” who read their text for them while they still lead the process of discussion and getting feedback. Also, I encourage and guide the audience to focus on the effect the text has on them and the techniques they see the author using. This means the writer doesn’t have to fear receiving critiques from peers in this format. That’s reserved for the table share where the “writing team” is small and can really dig in and work with the writer in the areas they feel are weak.
Several expressed missing the “fireside” share. I think, in part, because they were relaxing and it was creating a communal space in our room. So, now that most students are at the start of a new writing cycle, I will be bringing it back.