Wednesday, August 15, 2012

 Creating Literacy Learning Environments To

Blossom Student Engagement and


It’s about community

To create a Writers’ Workshop with students, the way I set up my classroom matters.  There needs to be a place where I can gather all my students together for whole group lessons so that I can model my writing with and for students and so that they can “share the pen” and voice their internal work as writers, too.  Likewise, I need to take care that there are places where students can engage in meaningful independent literacy practice and build the room to reflect my students’ learning styles as well as my need and desire to meet with students in one-on-one conferences.  And, because small group learning is vital for all students, I am thoughtful in creating spaces in my classroom I can meet with students in small groups. 

Developing a list of architectural considerations in building a supportive Writers’ Workshop classroom, here are some of the key features in my blueprints:

v   Writing Tool Box/Writing and Drawing Center

o   Writing In Progress” file folders to warehouse students’ current and most recent writing pieces; I would often place these along with students’ independent reading boxes/baskets right by the front door of our classroom so that they can engage in their first dose of independent literacy practice the minute they walk in the door in the morning.

o   Writing Portfolios to archive some of their writing pieces throughout the school year (e.g. crate with hanging folders; stacking trays; etc.).

o   A variety of paper (unlined, lined, primary, large size, small sized, etc.); construction paper for draft book covers and drawing options; markers and extra pencils (of different sizes to reflect the special developmental considerations of growing writers); and resources such as a stapler and “jaws” (staple remover) etc.  Try to have resources readily available to encourage students to be independent in selecting and problem solving the materials they will need for their writing. 

o   An author of the month is also highlighted including numerous books by the author, biographical information, and students’ book reviews of the author’s work.

v  Independent Reading Boxes/Baskets

v  Classroom Library/Book Nook

o   Including student-authored pieces (from previous years/classes to begin with; over time, add to library with current students’ writing).

v  Whole Group/Large Group Gathering Area

v  Independent Practice Places

v  Small Group Learning Zone

v  Listening Center

v  Teacher’s Desk

v  Conference Corners (for peer conferences)

v  The Walls Talk! Anchor Charts and Thematic Taxonomies or Word Walls

v  Classroom Library/Book Nook

o   Every classroom should have 500+ books.  Aim for a 50%-50% mix of fiction and nonfiction texts including poetry texts (which can be fiction and nonfiction, of course).  

o   30-40% (primary/infant grades) and 25-30% (intermediate/junior grades) of classroom libraries should represent leveled texts (i.e. by Reading Continuum stages) to engage students in independent reading with “just right” texts – texts which a child can understand on his/her own including knowing  95-97% of the vocabulary words/concepts.

o   It is incredibly helpful to have a team or school book room of leveled books and thematic text sets for content area learning and literacy units of study so that all teachers can easily and quickly draw from these collections. 

o   Of course, having an excellent school library is a must!

o   From all of these considerations, I had my students develop an independent reading well (basket, box, cubby pocket, etc.) of 5 – 15 texts to read from for a two week period of time.  I monitored my students’ reading to ensure that they read multiple genres while honoring their choice of their reading texts.  Some of the key factors in helping students develop compelling reading wells include guiding them to short and spirited texts, connecting with favorite authors, and encouraging students to record “What to read…/Too good to miss…” lists (on index cards they consistently carry in their back pockets or in address books). 

v  Whole Group/Large Group Gathering Area

o   Comfortable seating to connect with one another and stay focused during our whole group lessons and discussion

o   Resources such as chart, easel, and markers (These are absolute must have tools for all classrooms for modeling and thinking aloud and to develop anchor charts!); interactive Smart Boards (if possible) and/or a document camera; and an author’s chair to engage in modeling and think alouds.

v  Independent Practice Places

o   Before school starts, I save some of the organization and decorating of the classroom so that the kids and I can create our setting together.   Some of our first conversations center on “What do you need to do your best work?  What helps you engage in writing, stay focused, and feel energized?”  By discussing this with one another, together we think about how to create their best independent practice studios (as well as other considerations).  This is part of the metacognition I will focus on throughout the year in helping students know why and how they think as writers, readers, and learners.  This does not mean that all students need to sit at or even have a desk.  If my classroom is small, I may consider having round tables, taking the legs off tables, removing chairs (to save room and offer students seating with cushions), and/or having a variety of places for students to engage in their independent writing and reading which match their learning styles.  For example, I am reclining writer and reader.  If I know this is true for my students (and after a few procedural focus lessons about knowing ourselves as writers, staying engaged and absorbed in writing by finding the “best” place to do our own individual work, etc.), I make sure that our classroom give students opportunities to stretch out as they write and read. 

o   I need to arrange the furniture in my classroom so that I can easy move around and through my classroom as students write independently.  I travel in an unpredictable fashion to confer with students individually or in pairs or triads to support their engagement.   Conferring, a key interaction between the kids and me, shapes decisions about where students place themselves for independent practice.

o   Access to what we know our favorite writers need is a huge part of making students’ independent practice places work for them (and us!).  Some writers need to read to prime their pump for writing.  Thus, it is important that students have access to mentor texts – books which inspire them, texts which you have shared in demonstrations and modeling, literature which echoes the skill you are focusing on with students.   Additionally, access to technology is a chief goal.  Whenever possible, I want to have as many computers in my classroom as possible.  My first lap top computer completely changed my life as a writer and I want this opportunity for my students, too.  Students need to have access to tools which make writing more fluid or more connected to their ways of learning and thinking outside of school.  

v  Small Group Learning Zone

o   My small group meeting areas are most often a small table and 4-6 chairs for writing clubs and clinics, book clubs, guided reading/small group instruction, etc. Sometimes, I also set aside a comfy place on a carpeted corner of our classroom for small group learning.  [Of course, this is a matter of personal style.]

o   I organize my small group station(s) so that I can easily access resources such as chart paper (on an easel) and markers, white boards and dry erase markers, mentor texts, manipulatives for spelling instruction and word sorting, etc. during small group fellowships with students.

v  Listening Center

o   Students can listen to audio books (Great support for students of all ages/grades).

§  It is critical for students to have multiple opportunities to hear and read the genres, styles, and traits we are studying with them.

§  Audio books are also a valuable way to build students’ background knowledge for content area themes, inquiry units, etc.

v  My Desk

o   My Teacher Notebook, a three-hole punch, paper cutter, and clipboard “at the ready.”

o   I very rarely meet with students at my desk.  Rather, I go to them for our conferences.

v  Conference Corners (for peer conferences)

o   Sometimes, I include a small poster to remind students what to focus on during their conferences.  Additionally, I have often placed a tape recorder in our conference corner(s) so that students can record their peer conferences.  I listen to these later and sometimes with students, too, in modeling effective partnerships.

v  The Walls Talk!

o   Anchor Charts which articulate our current focus/unit of study; most often generated WITH students’ thoughts and voices

o   Thematic Taxonomies or Word Walls (It is very important that students have a personal copy of our class generated taxonomy profiling key terms during a study.)

o  Everything on the walls of our classroom reflects text/visuals which support students’ learning and expand their confidence and motivation. 

Preparation for Launching
Readers’ and Writers’
Workshop Units of Study

 Getting Ready for a Launching Readers’-Writers’ Workshop Study:

·        Organize classroom environment to support collaborations, conferring, whole group/community learning, independent reading and writing, student choice of writing supplies, etc. (e.g., group desks in small clusters; leave room to make one-on-one conferring possible; offer a variety of settings and resources for independently writing – computers, lap boards for writing while sitting on the floor, quiet corners when writers need to concentrate in deep ways, etc.). 

·        Analyze student data from your beginning of the year formative assessments and student portfolios with this question in mind: Based on the CCSS-based assessments/our standards-based assessments and my well of formative assessments, what are my students’ strengths? In what areas do they need more instruction and support? 

·        Study your school/district curriculum unit(s)/the profiled unit lessons to consider which lessons will benefit all your students, some of your students, or one of your students (From my own unit of study examples, many ideas are offered here to support your decisions in focusing and differentiating your instruction.  To receive an example, contact me at ). 

·        For reading studies:  Gather texts which help to highlight the Thinking Strategy/skills vividly for your modeling, collaborative practice with students, and for students’ independent reading.  Having texts “at the ready” will greatly support making responsive teaching decisions (decisions which respond to your students’ strengths, needs, and passions).  You have been given (or will soon be given) numerous menus of texts which I found edifying for students’ studies of each and all the Thinking Strategies. 

·        For writing studies:  Gather exemplars and mentor texts for your students to illustrate proficient writing and illustrate the big ideas for this unit/each lesson.  In this resource and in others I will provide you throughout this year, you will gain numerous text suggestions. 

o   Make baskets of mentor texts for students’ close study of unit “Big Ideas/Understandings” – a writer’s life, topic generation, small moments, etc.

o   Post exemplars along with writing rubrics/scoring guides.

o   Include student-authored pieces and child-authors as mentors and exemplars whenever possible. 

o   Include familiar texts to revisit as mentors so that students can easily see the focus craft/genre/concept for this unit of study. 

o   Select texts for read alouds to marinate students in unit concepts and skills (which may need to begin days or weeks before the beginning of this unit of study). 

·        Gather together and plan for sharing your own writing (Authentic pieces such as cards, e-mails, and professional texts count!) and your own reading.  Stealing texts right from your nightstand table and desk are perfect ways to create literacy modeling which has integrity and authenticity. 

·        Determine daily writing and reading materials and organize these for student independence (individual book wells/boxes; writing center so that students can select the supplies needed at any given time; where and how to store writing folders; etc.).

·        Make a writing folder for each students’ “writing in progress” pieces.

·        Develop a way and save a space to archive student writing over time in portfolios.

·        Support Resources and Supplemental Materials - In addition to the resources profiled above, it can be very helpful (or absolutely essential) to have the following materials available for growing writers:

o   Correction tape for interactive writing

o   Chart paper

o   Chart markers 

o   Date stamp with stamp pad

o   Staple remover (magnetic staple remover)

o   Stapler

o   Milk crates (to put hanging files for student work or archive student work over time)

o   Trays in which to put different types of “bare” books (make books that are both portrait and landscape, lined and unlined)

o   Illustrating tubs filled with colored pencils and markers

o   Unit of Study folders for the teacher to insert lesson plans and ideas for the particular unit

An apprenticeship approach to literacy requires that we spend time observing changes that indicate children are moving in appropriate directions…Children’s writing development is shaped by experiencing different types of writing activities in assisted situations, which are then follow by independent practice.                                                                  
Linda Dorn, Cathy French, & Tammy Jones (1998), Apprenticeship in  Literacy:  Transitions Across Reading and Writing

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