Distance Learning: Planning Virtual Writing Workshops with Students by Krista Senatore
I recently joined Teach Write’s Time to Write Workshop, an online writing workshop for teachers to come together on Zoom for a little writing time each week. These workshops inspire me to set goals and devote time to my writing.
Not only does seeing the other workshop participants writing on my computer screen motivate and nurture me as a writer, but it also provides a much-needed connection to my community of passionate and like-minded friends; All we need to do is look up at the screen and see one another writing to feel a sense of community.
Additionally, I find that seeing others write motivates me to keep my pen moving even when writing gets hard and I feel stuck. This is a connection and the motivation I crave more than ever during this time of quarantine.
It was during one of these workshops when one of the other teacher-writers shared that he offers similar virtual writing experiences to his high school students. After hearing his words I immediately thought, “I could do the same with my students!”
Engaging my students in an online writing workshop would offer them joyful, low stakes opportunities to connect with each other and engage in writing alongside their teachers and peers -- something that is incredibly important when we can't connect in-person.
Planning a Time to Write Workshop for Students
With these goals in mind, I sat down with my notebook and made plans for how I could fashion a Time to Write workshop for my elementary students.
I ended up with a workshop plan that would bring us together at the same time each week for about 30 minutes via Google Meet and would follow this general schedule:
Beginning: 5- 10 minutes
Introductions: As students arrive, we spend time connecting socially. We chat about our week and share something fun we did.
Share our past week’s writing work: I shift the conversation to writing by asking students about any writing they did this past week. At first, few students shared but now that writing has become a habit in their lives, they share poems they’ve written and talk about their notebooking.
Make plans for the day’s session. Some students come to writing time with ideas and plans but I always offer a few ideas to help generate writing in case they need them, such as:
Sentence starters: Simple words such as I believe..., I think… and I feel… give students permission to explore and express their feelings about their lives during the quarantine.
Words: I taught students that sometimes a word can spark writing ideas. I show them my copy of the book Write the Poem by Picadilly in which each page offers a word and associated words to inspire writing. One day, students wrote off the word, “Friend” and “Sun”.
Images, videos and quotes: We use these and other sparks inspired by Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms by Paula Bourque.
Confirm plans: Before we head off to write, I ask students to give a thumbs up if they have a plan for their writing. If they don’t I stay on to chat with them another minute.
Writing Time: (10-15 minutes)
Everyone, teachers included, mute their mics and begin to write. Our cameras stay on so everyone can see each other busy at work writing.
I set a timer and let students know how long we will write (usually 10-15 minutes).
Share & Goal Setting: 10 minutes
Celebrate writing: Once my timer goes off, I unmute my mic and invite students back with the words, “Welcome back writers,” intentionally naming students as writers. I ask students if they have anything to celebrate. Some students are bursting to share and want to read their whole piece of writing, others prefer to talk about how their writing went or share a word or sentence from their piece. Still, others chose not to share at all. I honor any and all options because this is their time and they have total choice. We celebrate after each person shares.
Goal Setting: Students set goals for their writing for the week. I jot them down so that I can ask about them at the start of our next session.
Connecting Writer to Writer: Teachers Writing Alongside Students
I repeatedly remind students that our workshop is just like the Teach Write’s Time to Write Workshop that I participate in. I want these students to know that they are doing the work of writers, just like I do.
During our online workshops, my co-teacher Beth and I participate fully. We talk about our writing, share our plans and goals, and write alongside students.
When we hold our notebook pages up to the computer camera for our students to see, they can see firsthand that writing can be messy and that it is okay. Our actions and words communicate to students: “We are writers too, and just like you, we struggle, have doubts, and have to make decisions.”
Not only are these virtual writing workshops a chance for us to connect as a writing community when we can't be together in-person, but they are also an opportunity for our students to see us teachers as writers too.
I find that I need this time during distance learning to write and connect probably just as much as my students. It provides me with a respite from the demands and challenges of distance learning and a much needed exhale!
Krista Senatore is a literacy specialist and co-founder of Lit Coach Connection, an educational consulting company located in upstate New York. She specializes in balanced literacy, reader’s and writer’s workshop, and supporting striving readers and writers. Krista is passionate about writing and is a proud member of the Teach Write Community.
You can connect with Krista on Twitter @LitCoachConnect, like her Lit Coach Connection Facebook page, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.