Posts Tagged ‘writing workshop’

WSRA 2019

I had the honor of attending the annual WSRA convention for my 5th year. If you’d like to refer back to any of my previous WSRA posts, here they are! I look forward to this very well-organized, professional event year after year because of the amazing, nationally-known speakers that are featured as well as the careful cultivation of trending topics and research in education and literacy. Oh, and all the great friends I get to meet up with year after year!

“Bringing Strategies to Life: Conferring with Individuals and Groups” by Jennifer Serravallo

The first session I attended was offered by Jennifer Serravallo and focused on Conferring. I was very interested to attend this session to enhance my ability to support the educators in my district as we continue to refine our literacy workshop model and our work with Teacher’s College.

After making a strong case for conferring with students (which has a high impact on learning through providing individual feedback, building student teacher relationships, and goal-setting opportunities), Serravallo helped us delve into the steps for establishing a conferring culture in your classroom.

Step 1: Choose a Student Goal

Begin by consulting the “Hierarchy of reading goals” (below). Face-to-face with a student and his/her book bin, work your way down the list with a student, interview style, until you determine where the student needs the most support. Stop at the first level where you notice a need for instruction.

There are several other assessment sources you can reference to set a goal for a student. For engagement: Is the student excited, passionate, and overall engaged with their texts? Observe them during independent reading – what is their time on task? Stamina? For fluency: Take an informal running record and note miscues, rate, inflection, etc. For genre-specific skills, consult the learning progressions of your instruction / curriculum. Additionally, invite students to fill out this form below, which allows them to reflect and self-report on areas they believe they need to advance.

While working to identify a goal for a student, consider engaging in a goal-setting conference, as per the following steps:

Goal Setting Conference Structure

  • Guided Inquiry – Help the student name a goal (that you already have in mind)
  • Teach – Offer a strategy to practice the goal
  • Coach – Provide feedback and support as the student practices
  • Link – Leave the student with a visual, physical reminder (artifact) of the goal and strategy). This could be a sticky note, copy of an anchor chart, model, graphic organizer, etc.

Below are some Prompts to Use Doing Guided Inquiry to empower students and engage them in their own learning and goal-setting:

  • What do you think you’re doing well as a reader?
  • What do you think you might need to work on?
  • What do you notice about your work?
  • Can you think fo ways that I can help you grow as a reader?
  • Look at __ compare it to what you’re doing as a reader.

Step 2: Look for & Reinforce Strengths

Provide “Helpful Compliments” – Notice and name what they are doing. Focus on effort, not ability.

Step 3: Identify and name the students’ strengths.

Resist the urge to focus on deficits! Often, students aren’t even aware of their strengths until we point them out for them. Naming their strengths and skills helps build them up!

Step 4: Think of the Progression of Skills

For example, consider the skill of “adopting new vocabulary” and how students progress through the list below as they master a new word. They don’t jump from “not knowing” to “master” in one fell swoop; it’s a progression! Resist the urge to jump straight to the grade level goal or standard.

  • Get the gist of the word
  • Understand the simple definition
  • Use local context to explain
  • Use larger context to explain
  • Consider author’s craft, tone, connotation vs denotation

Research Decide Compliment Teach Conference

Putting all the above together, we land at the R-D-C-T model of conferring. When we confer with students, we engage in the following steps (yes, all within about 5ish minutes!)

  • Research: Ask questions, have student read aloud, look at artifacts, etc.
  • Decide: Find a compliment and next step that connect
  • Compliment: What, why, concrete example of a student’s strengths
  • Teach: Name the strategy and teach, model, explain (step by step, how to)
  • Coach / Active Involvement – student reads/thinks/talks as the teacher offers feedback
  • Link: Repeat the teaching point

Step 5: Group for Efficiency

Develop a strong system of note-taking and management. Group students with similar needs to create strategy groups. Jennifer Serravallo explains that she meets with every student in her class face to face at least twice a week, either through individual conferring and/or strategy groups. This is a great goal!

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Dystopian Genre Literature Circles Reading / Writing Unit

Hello everyone! I’ve got a great new unit to share with you, posted on Teachers Pay Teachers. It is a Dystopian Fiction unit, which will fit into your curriculum nicely as Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop. As a Literature Circle unit, everyone will begin by reading the same anchor / mentor text (I suggest “The Giver,”), then each student can select his/her own second novel from the selection provided. This self-directed unit was designed for my Gifted & Talented 7th graders, so I think this unit would be a great fit for grades 7+. The goal is to independently explore the Dystopian Science Fiction genre, then come together to discover and discuss the genre features.

This 5-6 week unit combines Reading and Writing Workshop into a Literature Circle Genre Study of Dystopian Fiction and hits on a wide array of reading, writing, speaking, and listening standards.

This unit has been classroom tested and student approved! My students really loved this unit, largely because dystopian / science fiction is of major interest to them, and because they got to pursue their own reading selection and reading style. This unit helped us to discover how literature can be used as a critique on society and a metaphor for our deepest fears and dreams.

* Detailed Lesson Plans
* Independent Reading Checkpoints
* Cooperative Genre Study Activity (Dystopian Fiction Formula)
* 2 Essay Options including:
* Model Essays
* Scaffolding
* Rubrics
* Optional / Alternative assignment: Book Trailer

Click here if you want to download the lesson plans for free as a product preview!

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Lucy Calkins Teacher’s College Writing Workshop


Well folks, I have officially been Lucy-Calk-i-fied. I am now a converted, true believer.

I spent my 2nd week of summer at a Writing Workshop retreat held in Verona, Wisconsin by Wisconsin Education Innovations. For 3 days, we learned about Mini-lessons, conferring with students, teaching points, positive language, student ownership, independence, assessment, and every single awesome thing you have every wanted for your students.

The best part is, nothing was incredibly new or earth-shattering. I didn’t hear a single buzz word or idea that I haven’t heard of (or even tried!) before. The Teacher’s College methods just happens to provide a very systematic scope and sequence, as well as a flexible structure to follow. Truly, they were all things I’ve already been doing in my classroom, but without consistency or structure.

I’ll never be a believer in canned programs, so I was glad to learn that this method has so much room for flexibility and personalization. When you say you are “doing Writing Workshop”, to me that means making a commitment to keep your teaching points brief and do-able (10 minutes or under), provide the students with most of the hour to work (40 minutes daily), to confer daily with students and give them immediate, positive, and doable feedback that they can work on right away, and to closely monitor student progress in order to personalize their education. I especially loved the positive language component of our workshop discussions.

Writing Workshop doesn’t mean everything is spelled out for us, and any monkey could teach this class. It will still take an incredibly amount of knowledge and teacher craft to design mini-lessons, choose reading materials for your particular students, know best literacy practices, guide students to become strong readers and writers, and pace your lessons appropriately.

The best analogy I can give you is that Writing Workshop provides you with the ‘kitchen’, but you need to know your patrons, choose the recipe, select the ingredients, and learn to wield the tools effectively.

By the end of the workshop, I left with an excitement to get back to the classroom and try this out. I’m perhaps most excited about the daily conferences with students. This is what was missing in my curriculum. Conferring with students will allow me to personalize their education and differentiate for individual strengths and needs.

I also left the conference with a huge wish list of books. I just can’t decide which ones to buy first!

My current wish list:

  1. Core Six: Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core
  2. The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo 
  3. DIY Literacy Video Series by Kate Roberts & Maggie Beattie Roberts
  4. Falling In Love with Close Reading by Christopher Lehman & Kathleen Roberts
  5. Teaching Reading In Small Groups
  6. Writing Pathways by Lucy Calkins
  7. Assessing Writers by Carl Anderson
  8. How’s It Going? A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers by Carl Anderson
  9. Conferring with Readers by Jennifer Serravallo
  10. The Power of Grammar by Mary Ehrenworth
  11. Catching Up on Conventions by Chantal Francois and Elisa Zonn
  12. Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst 
  13. In The Best Interest of Students by Kelly Gallagher 

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Art of Writing Conference 12/13

Calatrava (c) Kristen Dembroski

Today, I had the privilege of attending the 26th annual Art of Writing Conference at the Milwaukee Art Museum. This is my 7th time returning. The Art of Writing Conference is a truly amazing experience where hundreds of young authors and artists, grades 1-12, come from across the state to meet at the Milwaukee Art Museum for a day of exploration and writing.

Milwaukee Art Museum (c) Kristen Dembroski

We begin the day by breaking up into small grade-level groups of about 10 students from different schools, and we tour the museum together. Our goal is to choose a few pieces of art and discuss the artist’s message while also looking for a way to connect personally to the piece. As a former docent and an Art History major, this is definitely my favorite part of the day. The students do some very deep reflecting and thinking on the art – oh you would be so proud! They have such profound and touching things to say. I never get tired of the museum tour because each group of students sees something different – even if it’s the same piece I’ve viewed with hundreds of students before them, I always hear something new.

OKeffe Milwaukee Art Museum (c) Kristen Dembroski

Later in the afternoon, we gather for a silent hour of writing or sketching. The authors generate a first draft of their writing piece, which is a 500 word personal narrative inspired by a piece of artwork we viewed in the morning. We sit at a table in the middle of the gallery – what a gift to be able to write surrounded by world treasures! After a break for pizza in the Calatrava, we engage in Writing Workshop: peer revision, editing, and writing a final copy. Then, voila, their work is published in a few short months! We all return to the museum for a ‘Book Release Party,’ and the students get a copy of their published work.

OKeffe Milwaukee Art Museum (c) Kristen Dembroski


I am very grateful for this opportunity to be inspired by the art, authors, and artists. I wish I could take all of my students every year, because it is such a unique opportunity.

By the way, there was a really cool surprise for me this year. They start the conference every year with a video about the conference and the writing process. It features video captured from previous conferences. Imagine my surprise when I saw myself up on the big screen in the auditorium! Here I am leading my group of 8th graders last fall. Of the hundreds of people there, it was neat to be in the spotlight!

Art of Writing Conference 2013 (c) Kristen Dembroski  Art of Writing Conference 2013 (c) Kristen Dembroski

If you’re interested in reading my piece, you can download it here: Dembroski Short Story

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Rewind, Pause, Redo Day!

So here we are, 5 weeks into school, and I wasn’t liking the grades I was seeing. Students had lots of missing work, and that’s not good news. Furthermore, they weren’t realizing that 8th grade means giving more effort than 7th grade – their work was off topic, didn’t follow directions, or was riddled with simple errors. This showed me that students weren’t taking their work as seriously as they need to. What to do…. what to do…

I decided to stage a “Rewind, Pause, Redo!” Day. It meant we would be off track of our schedule by one day (I bumped my Tuesday plans to Wednesday), but I felt it was necessary and definitely worth the sacrifice.

Before school, I made instructions for 4 different stations. I then made copies of the instructions and handed them to the correct student as they entered the room. These were my 4 stations:

1. Great job! You are all caught up on your work, and you received an A on our last writing assignment. Please read your library book and work on your Independent Reading Project.
2. You received a B or a C on your first writing assignment because either your evidence wasn’t specific enough, or your links were weak or vague. Please look at my comments and focus on revisions and editing. You should also refer to the model writing piece for ideas and sentence stems. Turn in your revised writing piece by the end of the hour.
3. You received a D on your first writing assignment because your piece was missing critical elements. I have created a scaffolding grid to help you focus on one piece at a time and to make sure you don’t miss anything. Let’s work on this together this hour.
4. You have missing work. You have until the end of the hour to complete and hand in your missing work.

At the beginning of my 3 classes, I listed how many students were receiving each letter grade in their Language Arts class. Then, at the end of class, I revised the numbers so they could see how their hard work paid off. I was honestly so impressed, I was almost moved to tears. The students were incredibly proud of themselves as well. I don’t believe that students earn ‘bad’ grades because they are naughty or lazy – they just haven’t yet received the support they needed. Taking a whole class to address their questions and concerns was an eye-opener for all of us! I can’t afford the time to do this every week, but I know that taking a “Rewind, Pause, Redo” Day early on in the year set the tone for our class for the rest of the year. Here are their MAJOR improvements:

Rewind Pause Redo Day (c) Kristen Dembroski

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Writing Desk – A New Tool for Writing Workshop!

The Writing Desk (c) Kristen Dembroski

I am SUPER excited about this new tool I developed for my classroom. The Writing Desk is a reference tool to be used during Writing Workshop, such as writing a draft, peer revising, and/or editing.

I took two manilla folders and overlapped them to create a 3-way standing ‘desk’ or divider. Then I created the printouts that are glued on the 3 inside surfaces. It’s designed to look like a cork board with lots of helpful ideas and ‘post its’ tacked up. The ideas include:

* Commonly Misspelled Words
* Introductory Elements – AAAWWUBBIS
* Transition Words
* How to correctly quote
* The Do’s and Don’ts of Peer Revision
* A publishing checklist (for final drafts)
* Compound Sentences – FANBOYS
* Appositives
* Other Ways to Say ‘Said’
* Our 6 Traits CCSS writing rubric that we use for all of our expository writing
* A TEL-Con sandwich graphic organizer. If you aren’t familiar with TEL-Con, it’s an organizational structure we use in our school for writing body paragraphs. You can learn more about TEL-Con through any of the following links:

Cross-Curricular Prompt Writing: Middle & High School: Common Core Organization
Argumentative Writing Instructional Workbook Grades 7-10: The Paper Chain
Argumentation Writing Unit: Common Core: Online Collaborative Discussion

I kid you not with this story: I have a high school ‘helper’ – a former student who volunteers in my classroom, and she is helping me make these writing desks. I explained the project to her, and the first thing she says is, “No fair! I wish you had thought of this when I was in 8th grade!”

I’ll be working hard for the next week or so to create a whole classroom set. If you’d like to purchase this for your classroom, click here!

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