Writer’s Workshop-Working through the Hard Parts (and They’re All Hard Parts) by Katie Wood Ray

Ray, K. W., & Laminack, L. L. (2001).The writing workshop: Working through the hard parts (and they’re all hard parts). Urbana, Ill: National Council of Teachers of English.

Katie Wood Ray’s book offers a foundation for anyone using writing workshop in their classroom. It is a comprehensive look at not only the necessary parts of a writing workshop, but she also touches on the needed routines and behaviors to make it successful. There is an added bonus to this book in the “Writerly” additions by Lester Laminak. On every few pages, there are side bars that bring us back to voices of writers such as Lamott and Zinsser to remind we as teachers of writing, that writing can be hard. We can learn from the experiences of others to help our students find their purpose as writers.

I chose this book because I really came to understand the importance of allowing time for writing to develop. The time to get down that first draft and then craft and mold it is paramount. I focused on 3 chapters in this book; Chapter 5 “Time in the Workshop as a Predictable Event” pages 51-58, Chapter 6 “Getting Started with Independent Writing Time,” pages 59-71 and Chapter 7 “ Managing Predictable Distractions in the Writing Workshop.

Chapter 5 “TIme in the Writing Workshop as a Predictable Event.”  

This chapter discusses the need to allow plenty of time to write. Students need many experiences in writing because it is so challenging. (pg 10) Like all good writers, they need to write “not so good stuff alongside the really good stuff.” This volume takes time. Ideally the students would have the same amount of time at the same time every day. Although this is not always possible, a determination can be made that when it is Writing Time, the routines and actions are exactly the same, be it at 10:00 or 2:00. The way the students function during this time, the way they spend their time is not changeable. There is an accepted routine.  The needs of the writers during this time are 1.) Daily experience working on writing 2.) Someone to teach them about writing and 3.)Talking with others frequently about writing. It is suggested that the sum total of the lesson and sharing time match the time given for independent writing.

Chapter 6 “Getting Started with Independent Writing Time”

The “work” of workshop is the focus of this chapter. Establishing the range of activities for writers so that they can be productive and write is critical. Ray suggests not to worry if they are writing well or not, just that they are writing,, writing with a purpose, for certain audiences, occasions or in a certain genre. The range of activities might include class writing, personal projects, “free writing.” Writer’s workshop might also include reading to support writing. Re-reading, author study, reading to support writing goal as well as Peer Conferencing. Peer conferencing might take place in certain areas of the room as not to disturb others. Certainly these activities would require careful planning and eventual release of responsibility. Supported by routines, a “range of activity” allows for choice and purposeful writing experiences.

Chapter 7 “Managing Predictable Distractions in the Writing Workshop”

As any elementary teacher knows, anytime the teacher is not standing in front of the classroom, the classroom can quickly dissolve into pandemonium. Unbeknownst to me, a lecture model is really a low structure because the students are not working and acting to be in charge of their own behavior. The writer’s workshop model allows for students to make decisions and choices within set parameters. Ray established that there will absolutely be distractions, but with established expectations and routines, they can be minimized. She recommends having a strong teacher presence, moving around the room to check in on writers. Designating the spaces is also important. Where best to peer conference? There needs to be a system on where student sit as well as how they transition. Productivity is also a consideration. What does having a productive workshop session look like? She compares productivity in workshop to productivity on a worksheet. Completion expectations should be the same. The take-away is that by having clear expectations and identified work choices, distractions should be minimized.

Giving my students time to write is my goal. With all the curricular demands, I will have to work hard to give them that time, but if I can train them and remain consistent in what we do during our Writing Time.