Over the years I encountered several dilemmas when teaching young students to write. First, there was the issue of time. There was never enough time:
- To gather all of the materials I needed
- To teach a complete lesson
- For students to practice writing
Second, there was the issue of motivating all of my students. Some students were difficult to motivate, especially for writing. I fought the battle for years. I’d run through hoops to create some kind of excitement when it came to teaching writing skills. I tried mentor texts, dressing up in costumes, and more. They worked, but wow, they took up a lot of time. I’d give the lesson and find that there was very little time left for actual writing practice. As the years went by, I tried new teaching strategies to build successful writers.
The third dilemma was locating a curriculum that met my needs, but more importantly met my students’ needs. I found myself spending hours hunting for materials, running off notebooks full of papers on teaching writing, buying books on how to teach writing, and of course the “dittos” as we called them, later called worksheets, I’d find. It was odd, my school provided us with a math and reading curriculum, but for some reason writing was left up to me to create.
Something Had to Give
I watched many teachers give up around me. They resorted to monthly themed writing assignments. For example, they’d have all students write about a leprechaun in March. That was “teaching writing”. There was no real writing instruction that went with it, but they called it “writing time.” Teachers would get out the red pen, correct spelling mistakes and capital letters. Students would grudgingly rewrite and their work and color a picture to accompany it. The product would be posted on the wall for everyone to see. There was no meaningful feedback. There was no attention directed at growing the actual craft of writing for students.I took a graduate class on the teaching writing. I became interested in the writer’s workshop model. I hunted again and found what I could gather together. The workshop model helped with organization of class time. I also found the Six Traits of Writing as a way to measure growth and also to provide the structure to what was being taught in the lessons. I remember creating my own binder full of lessons with mentor texts that I found in a variety of places. Still, it was taking too much time to search for lessons and materials. Fortunately, technology in the classroom began to boom!
Why I Changed—Blending the Writer’s Workshop
I needed a solid and complete curriculum. I didn’t have the time or money to keep searching for engaging curriculum materials. I needed something that I could follow and know that my students were being taught all of the standards. I lead my school in adopting a new K-5 writing curriculum based on the workshop model, WriteSteps. It was based on the workshop model, was very easy to follow, had all the materials needed, and met all writing and grammar standards. It was also divided by grade level. This provided our staff with fidelity in implementation of writing instruction. We finally had a spiraling of skills and continuity in instruction. I spent a year or so becoming familiar with the program and seeing major results in student writing scores. My next step was to change my delivery method; not the curriculum, only my delivery method.
How I Made the Delivery Model Switch
Teaching the entire lesson still took time. I was perched at the front of the room preaching to students like a parrot creating anchor charts by the dozen. By the time the lesson was over, there was very little actual time left over for practice. This was when it hit me. I now had a classroom full of iPads. I learned that by blending my workshop with technology, I could solve all three of my dilemmas. I recorded my instruction using Explain Everything on my iPad. I taught the exact lesson that I normally would teach, however, there were no distractions. I could make them as creative and engaging as possible. The lessons now took less time! The 30-40 minute lessons now took about 7-10 minutes. I put the lessons on a Learning Management System, Edmodo. My students could access the lessons easily when they were ready for them. This meant that I could rove around the classroom while my students watched my writing lessons on their devices. It was as though I had cloned myself.
There were three noticeable changes. The first noticeable change was immediate. I found that I had more time to meet one to one with students. I could conference with them during the entire workshop. This really helped me differentiate instruction. The second noticeable change was that students had more time to actually practice writing. They no longer had to sit and wait for class directions. They had it at their fingertips. They could move at their own pace. The third noticeable change was that blending instruction created more time for students to publish creatively. This was a huge motivator! Before long students were creating drafts and revising so that they could create eBooks, movies, and even use the green screen to publish their work. This was the writer’s workshop model I had been dreaming of! I had it.
Looking back, I wonder how I ever taught the lessons without technology. I considered myself to be a great writing teacher, but technology allowed me to be even better.
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