While reading In the Middle I found myself inspired at times feeling that I had found the solution to all of my students’ writing needs, and I became flat out frustrated at other times wishing that I fully believed my own students could grow leaps and bounds via participation in a Writer’s Workshop. I very much feel like there are cliffs all around me with no concrete answers to be found. On the one hand, I learned that students are able to discover and demonstrate vast amounts of knowledge and understanding through the implementation of a Writer’s Workshop. On the other hand, when students are years behind in their writing skills is it fair to them to demand competent writing without their understanding of basic writing skills that must be understood at even the most vague level in order to create logical, coherent sentences?

I have no solid answer despite the praise and reviews of Atwell’s techniques or after reading them firsthand. I understand the power of one on one instruction that a Writer’s Workshop would provide my own students, and, I guess, therein lies the problem. There are so many intensive, tier 3 students that I wonder how I can possibly hope to meet standards, or make significant gains towards catching up to those standards.

I suppose it all boils down to my own abilities to manage various levels of ability simultaneously and my ability to connect with my students. I feel that doing whole class instruction will likely hinder the growth and development of my tier one and two students, therefore, I see tremendous value of the Writer’s Workshop approach, yet I worry tremendously about the amount of time it will take one on one to help my less successful students develop.

Am I whining? Perhaps, but I genuinely feel perplexed. Perhaps I should take a step back and run full speed jumping off of the cliff into the abyss. Courage is, after all, a prerequisite of teaching.

Bottom line: There are far too many benefits not to try and incorporate a Writer’s Workshop into teaching writing. I value my students and feel that the best way to help many of them is to engage them on a one on one basis and encourage them to set goals, produce writing, and place value in their own writing.

Over the next several months, I will be doing my best to transform my class into a Writer’s Workshop. Presently, I’m not sure what you would call my classroom. At times I feel like I’ve done great things for my students, and others I feel that I have done nothing but run around like a chicken with my head cut off, and that is terrifying to me. I will use lessons developed by Atwell in In the Middle, make up others, and borrow even more from other places until I find a mixture of units, lessons, and minilessons that help all of my students achieve my main goal for them: to become better writers and more critical thinkers for having taken my class. It is time to stop writing and to start B.A.S.E jumping.

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One thought on “Methods #16: In the Middle B.A.S.E. Jumping

  1. Here’s the thing about writing workshop: it’s about process, not product. Yes, you’re going to get some good products out of it, but competent writing is not the goal. Passionate writing, committed writing, writers who care…. that’s the goal. It’s about a mindset, habits, routines, structures, a daily commitment to doing the work of writing. All of it isn’t going to be good–all of my writing isn’t! But through the process of doing it every day, pieces will emerge that ARE good, that are worth continuing to work on. I think this blog post really nails the key issue in workshop: trust. You’ve got to trust that you can pull it off, first of all. You’ve got to trust that it’s going to work. (Which is pretty hard when you’ve never actually seen a workshop classroom in action before!). You’ve got to trust your students, but even more, you’ve got to trust yourself. The workshop IS what you do in your class. You aren’t taking time away from other things–you are using the structure of workshop to incorporate some other things that need to be taught (Atwell does plenty of mini-lessons on grammar, for instance), but everything is about the workshop. I think you also have to be very organized to make workshop work. You need to have predictable structures and routines and you need to train students in those structures and routines. Maybe for the rest of this year, get your feet wet with some of the assignments and ideas in In the Middle. (Even better, get a copy of Atwell’s Lessons that Change Writers and maybe Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them too–best book I know on teaching writing.)

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