Crystal Sabatke-Smith, a 6th grade teacher in Montrose, Colo., is one of those teachers whose classroom inspires students and colleagues. She agreed to allow me to publish the following:
I love writing. I have a degree in English, have worked as an editor, and have been published in books, magazines, and newspapers. I love teaching writing even more. I love watching students experiment, play, and marvel at the power of the written voice. Each year, I have one goal for my middle-school students: I want them to love writing too, because with a love of writing, comes fluency, stamina, and commitment. A love of writing means a love of learning, and after ten years of teaching students to write, I have learned that a workshop format with an emphasis on risk, experimentation, and publication, makes for the most authentic learning. The Colorado Writing Project, combined with the mentorship of renowned writing experts, Atwell (1998), Calkins (2012), Fletcher (2001), and Kittle (2008) has been paramount in the development of my instructional philosophy.
The Colorado Writing Project
After my first year of teaching, I enrolled in the Colorado Writing Project’s (CWP) introductory course. Disenfranchised with a classroom focus on conventions, rather than the writing process or comprehensive inclusion of the 6+1 Traits, I fell in love with the natural development of writing endorsed by CWP. Through the two-week course, teachers live the writing process and learn how to “implement current research and best practices in teaching and writing” (Hartman & Crawford, n.d.). The next year, I implemented writer’s notebooks, mini-lessons, conferencing, and the writing process with fidelity. Rather than the glazed faces I had tolerated the prior year, I noted an almost immediate improvement in my students’ writing and their desire to compose best generic viagra. Subsequently, over the next five years, I enrolled in the second and third courses offered through CWP in order to better hone my instructional practices. Through independent study, I was able to complete research on narrative writing and assessment, ultimately allowing me to develop a standards-based, portfolio system to showcase students’ growth and achievement.
Through a focus on differentiation through a natural learning progression for both students and teachers, Atwell (1998) encourages the establishment of classroom routines that support quality student work. From her, I developed an appreciation for targeted, responsive mini-lessons that “help students make sense of their world through reading, writing, and sound thinking” (Atwell, p. ix). More importantly, however, I learned that I must commit to “writ[ing] and read[ing] with students” (Atwell, p. ix). My students’ learning is driven by my own growth as a writer and teacher of writing.
From Calkins (2012), I learned, that as a writing teacher, I must elevate my expectations for students. No longer are excuses about background or a lack of past writing instruction acceptable. With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), an emphasis on high-level comprehension has “refocus[ed] the nation on students’ proficiency as writers” (Calkins, p.102). Not only is writing treated as an equal to reading, but it is in fact, “the vehicle through which a great deal of the reading work and reading assessments will occur” (Calkins, p. 102). Whereas the mandates of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) placed heavy emphasis on phonics and grammar rather than composition, the CCSS return writing to its rightful place as a foundation for learning.
In 2009, I had the honor of being selected by the Colorado Department of Education as one of 25 educators to serve on the sub-committee for the revision of the Colorado Model Content Standards, eventually resulting in the adoption of the CCSS aligned Colorado Academic Standards. Through this process, I worked with like-minded educators determined to focus writing instruction on the recursive writing process and a range of writing types. My belief in the writing workshop and writing process as a way to grow strong writers is based heavily on the research and work of Fletcher (2001). Writing workshop allows for a naturally differentiated classroom centered on student ownership and responsibility. In a workshop, students are allowed freedom of choice and liberty to err. The structure of writing workshop allows students to develop skills, “along with the fluency, confidence, and desire to see themselves as writers” (Fletcher, p. 1). By the end of the year, I find even my most fearful, hesitant writers engaged and assured by the enthusiasm of one another and the energy of writing workshop.
Kittle (2008) is one of the few writing experts who specifically emphasizes writing workshop in the high-school classroom. Although I am a middle school teacher, Kittle’s “focus on the process of writing [to] help students discover its power to improve their work” (p. 3) transcends grade levels. It is only through modeling of the writing process that teachers can truly meet the needs of student writers. Not only do I maintain my own writer’s notebook, I also participate in genre studies with students, using my own writing to emphasize the hard work of drafting and revision. Kittle (2008) also stresses the importance of giving regular feedback through conferences, which I have found to be the most effective means of growing student writers. Like Kittle (2008), I believe that “writing depends on talk” (p. 86). Workshop must be rooted in the writing process, and students must be given frequent, differentiated response through conferencing with both teacher and peers.
Our students are writing more than ever. From essays, to texting, to e-mail, writing consumes the lives of 21st century learners, and the Common Core State Standards support extensive writing across the curriculum. Through Colorado Writing Project trainings as well as research of best-practice pedagogy supported by Atwell (1998), Calkins (2012), Fletcher (2001), and Kittle (2008) I have learned that high-quality, rigorous writing instruction is rooted in a process-based approach supported by writing workshop. Ultimately, writing workshop provides students with an expansive window of self-expression, reflection, and critical thinking, culminating in the power of learning and a love of writing.
Atwell, N. (1998). In the middle: New understandings about writing, reading, and learning (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.
Calkins, L., Ehrenworth, M., & Lehman, C. (2012). Pathways to the common core: Accelerating achievement. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Fletcher, R. J., & Portalupi, J. (2001). Writing workshop: The essential guide. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Hartman, K., & Crawford, K. (n.d.). Colorado Writing Project. Retrieved October 11, 2014, from http://www.coloradowritingproject.org/index.html
Kittle, P. (2008). Write beside them: Risk, voice, and clarity in high school writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.