After Ruth Ayer’s visit to New Hope Christian Academy last Monday, the teachers and staff have been working diligently and most creatively to implement the Writers’ Workshop model in their classrooms across all grade levels. In an effort to embrace this instructional approach that oozes – almost overwhelmingly – with creative potential, Ms. Hinesley and I have begun to carry out the Workshop model in her classroom bit by bit.
We started with a Workshop that was centered on a mini-lesson introducing the students to the model, its logistical side, a few managerial pieces around the structure, and the enormous potential for growing writers therein. We followed this introductory lesson with a somewhat experimental fifteen minutes of free-writing time. And so it was.
Well, yes, it was. It was good. It was fun. It wasn’t bad. The room didn’t go up in flames, and we didn’t have any students kicking and screaming for an escape. But it could have been better. So as any good practitioners would do, we reflected. In this reflection, we found that the most blatant need for Ms. Hinesley’s developing writers was focus. They’ve yet to find the creative release – the “loosey-goosey thinking,” as one student thoughtfully described it – that is so necessary for writing, especially of the unguided, unprompted sort.
To cater to this need, Ms. Hinesley approached the next Writers’ Workshop’s free-writing time with a bit more guidance – a single focus word. This word was “important.” When we took an approach as effortless as writing this term on the board, providing a couple of examples at approaching the exercise, and sending the writers off to do what [they will soon find out] they do best, Ms. Hinesley and I most immediately noticed a stronger willingness to write – to think, to apply, to jump in to that thinking and application, and to write. By the end of this thirty-minute timeframe, we had illustrated narratives, we had hilarious fiction, we had more serious poetry, and we even had a rap. The students shared their pieces, we laughed, and we clapped; Ms. Hinesley and I even took a rare five free seconds to bask in the glory of the moment.
With this successful Writer’s Workshop, the students certainly loved the accomplished feeling of having just run what they perceived as a writer’s marathon. In that, they were starting to embrace the intriguing challenge of writing. That, my friends, is huge.
So, Ms. Hinesley, being the fantastic teacher that she is, took this small success and planned a fun Writers’ Workshop lesson to push her students even deeper into the writer’s mindset. To do this, and to also prepare for a descriptive writing unit, she did a mini-lesson on “hooks” as an important part of introductions. Students were introduced to this concept through their current novel study book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963. We then challenged them to find and share a hook from their own independent reading books. After talking through these shares, Ms. Hinesely and I challenged the writers to embrace the spirit of long-term revision by revisiting the stories they created during one of the two free-writes prior. For that piece, or for a new piece, they were to create an uber exciting, ultra intriguing hook. After some hesitancy on behalf of the students, the results are in, and they’re nothing short of the emotional rollercoaster of a classic Lifetime movie. Because we had the wonderful problem of being short on time due to the writers being oh-so engaged in the independent writing time, we got a little creative with our sharing. To facilitate conferencing and sharing in a context that was most efficient for our situation, I worked with each writer to quickly create their own slide in an iMovie that we watched at a later time.
Although this delay in sharing was not ideal for our philosophies around the Writer’s Workshop structure, it allowed for sharing, constructive feedback, and confidence-building that may not have happened otherwise. Plus, it formatted our sharing of hooks in a context that we can share with you! Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you “Hinesley’s Hooks!”
We can’t wait to see what else these writers have in store!