Writers Workshop

I follow the ‘homeschooling’ blog of Patricia Zaballos.  I say ‘homeschooling’ because I really just want to say ‘schooling‘ or ‘teaching in a way that works’  or even ‘killer education ideas that are totally awesome’ as her ideas and techniques seem to me, to be transferrable to any situation in which you are looking to inspire, motivate and move children forward from where they are at to where they can be in an exciting, engaging and forward thinking way.  About 15 minutes ago, I opened an email advising me that her long awaited (by me) Writers Workshop book was finished!  Patricia had initially said it would be a PDF but it has expanded (as all great projects should) into an e-Book, PDF and a hard copy book. Without hesitation, I added the e-Book to my cart and downloaded away.

Here’s what I love about Writers Workshop already:

  • it comes in two parts: part one details the nuts and bolts of what the workshop is and part two offers you a “toolbox” for hammering out your own workshops
  • despite having to pay for this information ($5.95) I know I am not being “sold” something but rather being offered the opportunity to share in knowledge and insights into how kids write and how to help them become better writers.  If you take a look at Patricia’s blog you will see that her goal is really just to share her love of writing and of what has worked for her and her family.
  • I don’t think this has all the answers – nor do I think one book should.  What I do think is that it is an excellent place for someone to start who wants more – more for themselves as a teacher and more for their students or children.

After downloading, I skipped around the book in no particular order, starting with the section titled A few thoughts on taking dictation from kids. This is something near and dear to me so I read it with one squinted eye in case Patricia and I had differing opinions on the subject and I would then have to delete the file and pretend all of this never happened.  Happily, we are in agreement:

“Taking dictation from kids can be a powerful way to develop their voices as writers.  By dictation, I simply mean writing down something that a child wants to have written down.” ~ Patricia Zaballos, p77

She is right when she says this is often overlooked in schools due to the time-consuming nature of working one-on-one with students.  Since setting my students up with Google Docs, I have found that having them work on their document, share it with me and then come and conference with me, I can help them add to their work by questioning them and then simply typing in what they say.  It is very empowering for kids to be able to track the journey of their writing from ideas to drafts to published copy and literally see themselves growing on paper as a writer.  One thumb up for the book.

I then went to the section On Offering Feedback. Again, another area near and dear to me.  I am often asked “Is this good?” and it makes my toenails curl!  I recently read that in response to the question “Is this enough?” the response should be to tell students that such a question indicates they are entering the zone of minimal effort (ZME) and that they will know that they have written enough when they have nothing else to add in order to fully express their thinking.  In terms of delivering feedback to kids as they are writing, Patricia has some great ideas.  She begins by suggesting that for a while, as writers find their feet, we focus on providing positive feedback only.  By doing this, we can instill a writers strengths in their mind and build their confidence in what they are good at.  This made me think of parents with young babies.  You can ask them to sit/stand/roll over and if they pretty much make some effort at moving they are greeted with enthusiastic cheers and praise – even if they didn’t quite pull off the desired command.  We need to be that cheerleader for our writers – at least in the beginning – to give them the confidence that will make them want to come back for more.  I love the description Zaballos offers of feedback:

“Positive feedback offers a map of where to begin, and suggestions for where to go.  Too much critical feedback, on the other hand, simply gives a map of spots to avoid, labeled with skulls and crossbones.  It’s hard to get anywhere when you’re just trying to keep out of trouble.” ~Patricia Zaballos p25

Finally I went to Blueprint for a Workshop and Workshop Nitty-Gritties and here is where the money is.  I like a book that tells me about a new theory or idea in education.  I love a book that gives me solid, concrete advice for implementing the said idea/theory in my classroom.  This is what you will find in these two sections.  Of course, it is open for you to put your spin on it.  The whole point is that you figure out a method that is going to resonate with your students.  What I love though is that I don’t have to try and figure out what she is really trying to say because she lays it all out in black and white. It is clear, detailed and incredibly informative and definitely takes the mystery out of what a writers workshop might look like.  If you already know that this is the route you wish to forge, go straight to these sections – you won’t be disappointed.

As Patricia says, You, can cultivate writers.  

Click here to find out more about her book and to purchase your own copy or here to read another review of Workshops Work by a High School English teacher.