Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Writer's Workshop... PARCC Style!

So, in April I gave birth to my beautiful twin babies. Two babies meant that I was anchored to my couch for infinity hours each day feeding sleepy newborns. But, what I had this time around that I didn't have for my first two kids, was certainly a game changer for me... my iPhone. I didn't make the big move to a smart phone until my second born was a year old, so I NEVER knew how essential having an iPhone was to a mother with a newborn (or two!).

Admittedly, much of my time was spent pinning baked goods that I knew I'd never have the time to make and Candy Crushin'. But, there were many, many hours that I spent pouring over everything I could find on the Common Core and PARCC, looking for hints at what I could do to get my students super prepared.

I knew that writing was where some of my biggest changes would need to be. For years, I had used a pretty hard-core Writer's Notebook approach... think Calkins, Fletcher, Atwell, Routman, and Graves. This approach to writing has been, and probably always will be, my jam! Teaching writing this way makes me happy... and more importantly, it makes my students happy. Over the years, I've watched kids get hooked into telling their stories, addicted to making that connection with others through their words. I've watched them laugh and cry and cringe with embarrassment over the words on their pages. I've watched them agonize over creating the most perfect beginning and beam with pride when they know it's been successful. In essence, I've watched them cross over from being just a kid who writes to being a writer. It's truly been a privilege.

However, with PARCC looming and the emphasis on writing to inform/explain/analyze coming to the forefront, I knew that I needed to make some changes to my writing plans.

My tentative thinking is this:

  • September: and introduction to Writer's Notebook
  • October:
  • November:
    • a week-long writer's workshop on literary analysis using compare and contrast
    • an RST (Research Simulated Task... this is part of the PARCC test)
  • December: Writer's Notebook
  • January:
    • a week-long writer's workshop on literary analysis
    • an RST
  • February:
    • 2, two-week long writer's workshops on argument writing
  • March:
    • Review of literary analysis, RSTs, and argument writing
  • April:
    • Writer's Notebook
    • a three-week long writer's workshop on short stories
  • May:
    • Writer's Notebook
    • a two-week long writer's workshop on poetry
  • June: Writer's Notebook
**Note: for me, a writer's workshop means lots of modeling; mini-lessons on writer's craft, mechanics, grammar, and conventions; small group guided writing; conferencing (both with teacher and peers); revising and editing lessons; publishing on a computer; and an author's chair.

So, now that we just wrapped up our time in our Writer's Notebooks, we are going to put them aside for a few weeks and begin grappling with our unit on informing/explaining through comparing and contrasting.

Last year, I started opening every writer's workshop by getting all my kids to write just one really good paragraph and then we worked to stretch that paragraph into an essay. I cannot even tell you how GREAT this worked, especially for my struggling/resistant writers. Every single kid could give me at least one, good paragraph. And once we got that down, we would go from there. Some kids had no problem stretching that to a five-paragraph essay, some could manage to eek out three paragraphs, some managed two, and a few were stuck at one... but it was a GOOD one!! I found that I'd much rather have one outstanding paragraph than three not so good ones.

Anyway, we will be starting on this next week, so I'll keep you posted on how it goes. I'd love to hear how you teach writing in your classroom. Any methods/strategies that you swear by? Have you had to change things up since Common Core?

Thanks for reading!  Happy teaching!!


  1. Do you ever use Smekens? Some of your ideas sound so similar.

  2. Never heard of it! I will check it out :) Thanks for sharing!!