“I’m done!” Planning for the Predictable

We know from experience that teaching revolves around the seasons like the earth revolves around the sun. At the start of each school year we resolve to make it the best ever, using all we have learned over the summer and the years past. The challenge is knowing what to continue and what to change. What seems to work year after year? What seems to need revising based on each new group of students entering our classrooms? These questions are what make teaching so invigorating and challenging. It is what keeps us going forward with energy and excitement.

As we began this new school year we found ourselves anticipating some typical scenarios that happen during a writing or reading workshop each and every year. Very quickly we came up with the standard lament heard across the world, “I’m done!” How many of you have already heard this lament? How many times so far? As teachers we have two choices. We can tear our hair out at the instantly greying roots or we can take a breath, smile knowingly, and pull out some full proof plans that have worked again and again in years past.

Well, that is what we have done here. We have taken a breath, smiled knowingly, and pulled out a previous post that deals with this very predictable dilemma that occurs each and every year. “I’m done!” Well, to quote Lucy Calkins and Leah Mermelstein, “When you are done, you have just begun!” Specifically, when it comes to writing it is important that children understand that writing is a never-ending process. This week we revisit Tricia Newhart’s workshop classroom where writers think and plan, sketch and write, and revise with joy! She shows that charts are never static, but grow and change over time. Thank you Tricia for continuing to inspire us all!

Charts, like all living documents, need to be created with your classroom community and grow as you teach more, or as classroom needs change. Below is a series of photos from a first grade classroom that records how the writing process chart grew and changed over the first few days of school. These photos come from the incredible Tricia Newhart, who teaches in Orinda, California. A word about Tricia- when we close our eyes and imagine the ideal “workshop classroom”, Tricia’s room comes to mind. Her responsiveness to children, knowledge about reading and writing, and her absolute fearlessness and bravery in trying new things makes her an inspiration to all!

The Writing Process

Here is Tricia’s writing process chart at the very beginning of school. You will notice that she has photos up of children actually doing each part of the chart. Like concrete samples, photos are a great way to capture complex ideas in an accessible way. It also makes the chart tailor-made to each classroom and much more engaging to children. We all tend to look more closely at things when we have been ‘tagged’ in the picture!

Children’s Names Added

At this point, each child has his or her name on a post it, so that they can mark which step of the writing process each child is on. This is a great technique for any chart. Children can put their names on post-its for strategies they want to try, or as Tricia did, to keep track of where they are in a multi-step process.

Students Making Plans

Here we have that very idea in action!

Student Samples are Added

Here you can see the chart in its final stage stage. Now that children are close to revising, Tricia has added some student work with the actual revisions highlighted in yellow and annotated with sentence strips. If you have been looking close, you will see that the bulk of children moved from planning into the sketching and writing. Tricia is well aware of where they are and taught the next thing that MOST children would need.

Slowly building the chart as needed makes each part more accessible and memorable for children. It also keeps students from getting overloaded from day one. Tricia painted the big picture of the process on day one, but introduced parts more specifically (using post-its to make a plan, ways to revise) as the children needed it.

And one last lovely idea from Tricia:

Story Idea Spot

Here Tricia gives some space for children to put story ideas that pop into their heads during the day. Children can go back to access this during writer’s workshop. Again, the interactive nature of Tricia’s room shows the amount of independence she expects of children and the honor she gives to their thinking and writing.

Enjoy the week ahead and let us know the ways you deal with the expected and the unexpected challenges of teaching and learning!

Until next time, happy charting!

Marjorie and Kristi

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