Do You Teach Writing?

Always on the lookout for resources to help teachers, I recently found a gem: Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice (Stenhouse, 2010). Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz—the “Two Writing Teachers” bloggers—have rounded up a huge amount of detailed information and presented it in an easy-to-use way. With their many vivid examples and descriptions, they take the guesswork out of running writing workshops. Here’s everything you could want, cleverly organized so that you can take what you need, in the order you choose.

Day by Day’s six chapters cover key writing workshop topics: routines, mini-lessons, choosing materials and topics, mentors, conferring, and assessment. Each chapter is broken down into three cycles, each exploring a key subtopic. Within each cycle, ten brief discussions zero in on aspects of the cycle subtopic. An example: In Chapter 1, “Routines,” the first cycle is “Revving Up,” and the first discussion in that cycle is “Establishing General Procedures.” For each discussion, there’s a challenge (a practical strategy to try in your own classroom) and a reflective practice (two or three questions to guide your thinking about how the challenge played out). Count six chapters times three cycles each times ten discussions per cycle and you have the “180 days” promised in the title. Want to see for yourself? Go to Stenhouse Publishers’ website, where you can preview the whole book online.

This book’s layered approach lets you shape your own course of study. For comprehensive learning, work your way in order through each chapter, cycle, and discussion. For an overview, read just the book and chapter introductions. To refine a particular part of your practice, choose a chapter and work through one or all of the cycles. With this adaptability, Day-by-Day is just as useful for beginning workshop teachers as for veterans.

Throughout, Ruth and Stacey write with clarity and precision about even the trickiest aspects of writing workshops. I especially appreciated their ideas about conferring with student writers—how to approach kids, break down barriers, and get them talking to you and their classmates and reflecting on themselves as writers. And as a Responsive Classroom teacher, I valued their emphasis on explicitly teaching children how to do each aspect of writing, whether getting a pencil or transitioning from group instruction to independent writing.

To their clarity and precision, the Two Writing Teachers add an easygoing writing style that makes you feel as if you’re talking with comrades. Their many classroom stories not only draw you into the book but also help you envision what their strategies would look like in your own workshops.

Day-by-Day includes appendices with sample assessment sheets, writing project proposal forms, etc. (A facsimile of a fifth grader’s writing plan box really helped me understand this tool.) There’s also a reference section, with books, articles, and websites for further study, and an index.

Day-by-Day is not only an excellent resource but also a really fun read for anyone who teaches writing.

Sarah Fillion is a Responsive Classroom professional development designer.

Tags: Engaging Academics, Language Arts