The Dangerous Part of the Writing Workshop
‘We have reached the most dangerous part of our lesson young writers’ I announce to the group of students seated before me.
I lower my voice and lean towards them…
‘We must be careful going back to our seats to start our writing. There is a danger of being ambushed and taken away from your mission. Do not let anyone distract you from commencing the writing mission you have just discussed with your writing buddy. Someone may try to strike up a conversation that may lead you off course. Who can make it back to their writer’s notebook safely without being drawn away from their mission? Stay alert to the danger. It's all around you.'
They all smile knowingly.
It’s all a bit of a game, but the truth is I am aiming to narrow the distance between the young writer’s intentions and actions. I want every writer in the room to have the best possible chance to fill the blank page with their amazing words.
So, it becomes critical they become aware of the possibility of being distracted from the task they have identified during the pre-writing stage of our workshop.
The strategy I am employing is just another way I am aiming to increase the time these young writers spend actually writing.
Observation gathered from many writing classrooms has informed me that many students continue to socialize during the independent writing phase of the lesson. It is this distraction that inhibits the flow of words onto the page. All those wonderful words inside their heads, and lodged in their hearts fail to materialize on the page; lost in distraction.
Following some debriefs with teachers of students the need to build writing stamina in the same way we build reading stamina is established as a goal.
Talk and other distractions have been identified as impediments to composing during the independent writing phase of the workshop.
Efforts have been made to directly teach into this problem of practice in an effort to alert students to the potential problem distractions carry for their writing outcomes.
For this reason talk has been quarantined to those parts of the workshop before and after the independent writing phase. Unless of course teacher and students are involved in writing conferences or strategy groups. In these classes talk is being used in a mindful and targeted manner.
As developing writers, students need assistance and guidance in learning to shut out potential distractions. It is imperative for them as developing writers to understand the benefits of sustained time on task.
When writing stamina increases, the real benefits begin to emerge.
For a start;
The volume of writing increases
The writing is more cohesive
· The ability to concentrate improves.
Students often assemble for share time making statements like:
‘I am able to focus on my writing.’
‘The more I wrote, the more I remembered.’
‘I am writing more in one lesson than I used to write in a week.’
‘I like it when everyone at my table is writing quietly, it helps me concentrate.’
Talk is essential for writers, but it works best when harnessed. This conscious use of talk ensures it benefits the writing as much as possible.
Classrooms can be difficult places in which to write. So many potential distractions. We must continue to refine our practice around writing in order to let the best words emerge.