When I first started trying to implement readers-writers workshop, I was the master of the quickwrite and pretty much nothing else. It wasn’t until after a lot of volume writing that didn’t go far in helping students improve in style or structure that I knew my instruction was missing something. I had to teach into these quickwrites. Ohhh.
Over time, I’ve learned how to develop lesson plans that not only engage students in the non-negotiables of workshop instruction, but to actually feel confident that I am teaching the ELAR standards.
We all have standards, right? These might be Common Core — or determined by whichever state we teach. Texas has their own standards (Of course, it does).
The beauty of workshop instruction is that we can practice independent reading and writing — and teach into students’ skills development independently. We just have to plan accordingly. . . and leave space, knowing we will do more on the fly.
Take a look at this —
So how do we know what mini-lessons to teach?
When planning, I start with my state standards. In Texas we have Student Expectations, SE’s. Each one of those can be a mini-lesson. I introduce the SE to students, model what it looks like in a text or task. We discuss, question, and practice it by applying it to our own independent reading or writing.
Then, I pay attention. Sometimes, based on formative assessment or conferring, I may need to teach the mini-lesson again to the whole class, or sometimes small student groups or specific individuals.
These are the mini-lessons I plan in advance. However– and this is a big however — just because I know I must “teach” the standards, does not mean readers and writers must “master” them. (Don’t even get me started on standardized testing.) When it comes to writing, especially, student writers may choose not to apply specific moves in their own writing. That’s the beauty of teaching writers instead of teaching to rubrics or a specific format (Ugh, five-paragraph essay). Real writers makes choices depending on their intent for meaning and their audience. I love how Linda Rief explains more about this here.
So what do responsive mini-lessons look like?
These are the pop ups — the ones I know I’ll need to teach on the fly — based on what I see in students’ learning and growth. Maybe students are struggling with strong thesis statements or putting punctuation in places that actually aid the meaning of their sentences. I respond to their needs, and I teach specific mini-lessons, using mentor texts, to help students see how language works to craft meaning.
There is no list of mini-lessons we may teach in any given year. Your students’ needs are different than mine, and probably different than the teacher next door. Lean in, listen, identify their needs as readers and writers, that’s the best way I know how to know what mini-lessons my students need me to teach them.
Amy Rasmussen has taught all levels of high school English, except AP Lit, which is still on her teaching bucket list. She lives in North Texas and will be at a new-to-her high school in the fall. Alas, all gap years must come to an end. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass — and if you have questions about Secondary Readers-Writers Workshop, shoot her an email email@example.com. While she doesn’t claim to be an expert, Amy’s been imperfectly practicing the routines of workshop for a long time. Maybe she can help.