Differentiation Squared: Writer's Workshop in a CTT Classroom
We use a writer’s workshop model at my school that is similar to Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study. In this model, a writer’s workshop (which is supposed to occur daily) should consist of a brief mini-lesson, time for guided or interactive writing, independent work time in which you conference and students work with a peer or by themselves on a project, and a sharing time for students to present their work and receive feedback from their peers. Ideally, each completed writer’s workshop project should include five phases: brainstorming/pre-writing, rough drafting, revision, editing, and publishing. Our bulletin board projects sometimes fall off the board because they are so heavy from including the different drafts!
This model is theoretically ideal for differentiated instruction because it provides lots of time to work individually (and thus in small groups). In the co-teaching setting, writer’s workshop is a great time to try out a different model of co-teaching or practice using the ones you already employ in a new way! Check out one of my earlier posts for some background information on the six models of co-teaching. Let’s take a picture walk through some student work to examine how collaborative teaching can help reach all learners during writer’s workshop.
During basic workshop mini-lessons, my partner and I usually use the one teach, one assist model. One of us will deliver the mini-lesson while the other answers individual student questions and manages behavior. This provides consistency for the students who might otherwise get confused by hearing two different perspectives on the same topic and allows one of us to follow our ‘model’ through the entire writing process. During the lesson pictured at the right, I taught while Mr. K circulated and helped students manage their post-its, find examples in our model text, and manage a 'bad day' from one of our students. Behavior management during writer's workshop is critical to successful final product, and you or your co-teacher should never feel bad about assigning one person to that task. It can mean the difference between a classroom full of children working and a classroom full of children fighting over post-its, books, pencils, paper, notebooks, etc.
We use a mid-workshop mini-lesson to reinforce grammar and mechanics concepts like homophones, verb tense, and comma use. These are often parallel-taught and differentiated based on student needs; one of us will take students to work on one skill while the other addresses a different one with the other with both lessons delivered simultaneously. We experimented pulling groups at different times to keep volume down and allow the circulating teacher to look in on the small group, but we found that volume control for the students who were writing became a problem. It was also difficult for us to balance the time students spent working when we pulled groups at different times, so now we each pull at the same time and it works great.
For some of our students who struggle with dyslexia or other learning disabilities that present with spelling difficulties in the presence of good ideas and otherwise solid writing, my co-teacher and I permit the accommodation of computer use. Computer use usually takes place during alternative teaching. While one of us delivers a mini-lesson or circulates, the other will work with the student on the computer to address topics like organization, word choice, sentence structure, transitions, and other things SpellCheck can’t manage! At the right, there's a picture of a student's original brainstorm writing before it underwent the computerized writer's workshop treatment. On the left, you can see that once printed out, the student is able to identify many mistakes (with the language correction off); the next step is to turn language correction ON to bridge that accomodation gap.
Occasionally, one of us will introduce a concept or idea in writer’s workshop that the other is not familiar with, sometimes things we picked up in our OWN workshops or in professional reading. In this case, we will generally employ the one teach, one observe strategy to further the other’s professional growth as well as to make sure that in re-teaching or answering student questions we avoid confusion. In the picture at the left, you can see the student product from a two-day lesson cycle on the difference between editing and revision (which is still confusing for some students, especially those for whom 'editing' concerns like spelling, punctuation, and syntax obscure 'revision' concerns such as sentence structure, word choice, organization, and logic). I teach the students to use green pens when revising and red when editing so they can visually see the difference, and Mr. K observed during the mini-lesson to be sure he knew how to implement during practice time.
When we are publishing our written work, my co-teacher and I employ center teaching. We split the class into three groups… the independent group fills out a reflection on the project, what they learned, and what they would like to work on for next time. One of us generally works with the students to create covers and physically assemble the mass of draft papers, post-it peer review notes, and mechanics checksheets that becomes a final project. To the left, check out one of my students' constructive suggestions for another. At the right, a student works on the cover for his project comparing and contrasting two humorous poems.
The other teacher will lead the third group in a ‘read-around’ in which the student reads the paragraph or section of their work they are most proud of and receives feedback and celebration of their hard work (fortunately, my partner and I are willing to swap off that coveted role… it’s so much fun to hear the kids excited and proud of their writing!). This structure works well because it allows a group of students that is not quite ready to publish work on a stage of the process without necessarily having had to have finished their drafts. Check out one student's celebration of another's work... I love that he has explicitly adopted rubric language in his comments! (On our writing rubric, a Level 4 is the highest performance level you can achieve.)
The only co-teaching model my partner and I do not employ during writer’s workshop is tag team. We tried it, but found that it was distracting and confusing to the students.
Through effectively co-teaching writer's workshop, even students with severe disabilities can produce final writing projects that are 'fall off the board proud.' How do you use co-teaching to take your differentiated writing instruction to the next level and help your struggling students share in the joy of writing success? Share any questions or suggestions you have by posting comments here!