Sunday, February 5, 2012

Small Groups in Writing Workshop

I'm continuing the dialogue about small groups, as it's been a recent topic of discussion in our district as of late, not only for reading workshop, but for writing workshop as well. I've talked with teachers who've said, "I find myself sharing the same teaching point over and over again, but with different students." It just makes sense to pull them together for a strategy group in writing as well.

At first you might think that this will be too tricky, since you won't be able to read each students' piece. Actually, however, I think this forces us, or actually the students, to focus during the conference on that one part in which they can apply the teaching point. The classic, "Teach the writer not the writing" that Lucy Calkins talks about. We've been toying with this idea a bit, but it wasn't until we had a consultant come to do lesson study with us that we really put it to the test. This was new for her too! Kudos to this very special educator who was willing to try this out with us for the first time.

A side note – I love it that she did this, because I think it spoke volumes to us about how a lesson study is not about a "perfect" lesson, but about putting theory into practice, taking a risk and asking the questions; What worked? What might I do differently? and Where do we go from here? It's beautiful really.

Anyway…at first she was a bit disappointed the conference took 12 minutes, but then we realized that she met with four students and normally that could have taken twenty-four to thirty-some minutes. So often we feel frustrated that we aren't conferring with enough students. This is definitely a strategy to help us meet our students' needs more efficiently. It seemed to work to meet with one or two small groups and then one to two individual conferences during writing workshop.

When Writing Workshop Isn't Working: Answers to Ten Tough Questions, Grades 2-5
Another practical idea that I read about recently in Mark Overmeyer's book, When Writing Workshop Isn't Working:  Answers to Ten Tough Questions, Grades 2-5. Is to do what he calls, "Stack the Deck." When you pull a small group together, model and teach, then to have them work right there and you can touch base with them in between individual conferences. 

 Obviously how we structure our conferences will depend on the needs of the students. We don't want to be driven by the clock, but we want to be efficient and see as many students as we can. It's all about balance, like so many things in life seem to be.

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