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I’ve mentioned before that we’ve been hosting a writer’s workshop twice a month since September. I use the model for a workshop found in the book Workshops Work by Patricia Zaballos. I’ve shared a review over at Curriculum Choice, but I want to focus on how our workshop plays out each week.
Who Attends Our Writer’s Workshop?
- Our workshop has 6-8 kids week to week ranging in age from 11-15 (and my 8yo jumps in sometimes).
- I sent an invitation to the workshop to our entire homeschool group and we’ve had some kids come and go, but we’ve had a core group of writers since September. I wanted to be sure we had a diverse group of kids as much as possible and not just pick our friends.
- One requirement I specified is that the kids be able to be in a somewhat unstructured setting for two hours.
- Kids have to share their writing. If someone doesn’t like to share their work, then workshop is not a great environment for them. I don’t mind if they don’t share at first, but the idea is to give feedback and to enjoy writing for an audience.
- Not everyone who attends loves to write! This is a big one because even the kids who don’t profess to love writing enjoy coming to workshop and they are often inspired by others to write.
- We did have one special event in early November where I invited a local author to join us. The kids invited some of their friends and some of them stayed on with us. Anne Mazer was a real treat to see and I am so thankful she was able to encourage the kids and show us all what it’s like to be a published author.
What Happens at a Workshop?
- I start the workshop with announcements- usually I share websites I’ve found that I think the kids will like related to writing and writers.
- The students share their homework- yes they have homework. They beg me for it! I send them home with a second writing exploration to do during the interim and we share it first thing when we gather.
- We share the piece we’ve prepared on our own
- Writing Exploration- they get a short writing exercise during the workshop time and we share those.
- Share Time- after the writing exploration we have more sharing time. Our group is small enough that sometimes we share all at once before doing the exploration. I split it up only if it looks like everyone could use a break.
- Assign the Homework- this is an exercise they get to take home and bring back the next time. These are helpful if you have students who don’t always bring something of their own.
How Do You Handle Peer Feedback During the Workshop?
This is the tricky part everyone wonders about! How do I get the kids to engage with each other in a positive way? Many of your questions are answered in the book, Workshops Work. However, I’ll share a few things that have worked for us so far.
- Teach them how to do it- I went over how we would go about the process and I modeled that behavior when we started and occasionally now to keep things moving.
- Reminders- on the positive feedback we are looking for. We want writers to share each week so we aren’t looking for super critical reviews.
- They are specific with feedback- they tell something they thought was interesting or a word they really liked. It’s fun to ask more questions and help the students to remember specific things in a story.
- I have a poster- with language they can use or ideas on what to look for as a person reads just as a visual reminder. I pull it out when they need to see it again.
The feedback portion is so interesting to watch. The kids really listen for those golden sentences- the ones they want to hear again. And I’ve seen multiple chapters of the same stories show up because kids are encouraged to continue the tale.
We’ve been working together for six months and the group loves to hear what they will all read. They love it so much they can’t imagine taking a break for the summer! In fact, they were appalled I would even suggest it! How is that not a win?
What Happens If You Lack Confidence in Coaching Your Own Writers?
- The first thing I’d say is the workshop doesn’t require a lot of editing. It does require thoughtful feedback.
- Hands down the writer’s workshop is the best value for my effort as a mentor! It’s easy to implement and the kids grow to love it more and more each week.
- As a facilitator, after the kids get to know one another and understand how workshop time goes, you get to say less and less. The students really drive the workshop time. They are delightful to hear!
However, if overall you do not feel equipped to take on coaching writers through high school, there are other options! That is the great news about homeschooling- we can tailor our students’ experiences to fit their needs and ours. One such offering is the Essay Rockstar by Fortuigence. We had the opportunity to participate in the program last spring and summer and Lily Iatridis, the instructor, mentors the students through an essay assignment using an online format.
Fortuigence offers families four
modules that teach various aspects of essay writing. You can pay for the entire course or you can take them a la carte. The personal essay is a great start and allows Lily Iatridis to personally coach your student at writing a personal essay. College applications always require a personal statement of some kind.
Resources for Coaching Writers
Don’t forget to visit my post on resources for coaching writing. We have enjoyed using many of these during the workshop time. They are also what I pull from to assign homework to the workshop participants.
You might also enjoy my Pinterest board on Coaching Writers.
Whatever resources you choose, enjoy the process and remain consistent- whether you are the coach or you defer so you can be the assistant coach.