These objects might represent dreams, wonderings, special places, important events or milestones, family stories, and other joyful or even frightening events that continue to linger or have been definitive in their lives.
The writing workshop as described herein is primarily implemented at the elementary grade levels and not commonly reported in the academic literature as an approach to teaching writing in higher education. Nevertheless, I wanted to engage my teacher candidates in the writing process, much in the same way that they might engage their own students.
While the workshop approach is a worthwhile way to teach writing, it is also pedagogically demanding. Writing conferences as a form of assessment significantly facilitated my efforts. Making this decision as our teacher candidates were about to enter a field where more rigorous accreditation standards, curricular mandates, and assessment prevail, seemed like errant behavior.
In the beginning, it was apparent that students were heavily focused on my evaluation of their stories thesis express and less on the craft of writing. If writing was going to be a recursive and creative process, using analytic rubrics with narrow criteria and levels of performance to grade writing was reductionist in nature and weakened the heart of the writing process. Initially, some students could not loosen the grip on rubrics and found the ambiguity that resulted in placing less emphasis on formal assessments during the writing Gair Slaying the Writing Monsters 447 Figure 1 Writing Workshop Components process disconcerting. To provide students with some measures of success, I implemented a holistic rubric as a summative assessment to grade the capstone project. In contrast to an earlier analytic rubric in use, this type of rubric is designed to provide writers with a wider description of the characteristics that exemplify a level of performance and emphasizes what they can demonstrate rather than their shortcomings.
For instance, the holistic rubric that was applied as the summative assessment is focused on the building blocks of the narrative genre (e.
The primary diagnostic tool or form of assessment of student writing was accomplished through writing conferences, or conferring, as otherwise recognized in the literature in the field of language arts. At first, the writing conferences served more or less as benchmark points to loosely gauge progress - essentially an informal assessment practice of floating around the classroom and proving emotional support or positive reinforcement. I restructured the manner in which I conferred with students and began to function mainly as a writing coach who learned to focus more on the writer than the writing - sage advice heeded from the thesis express work of Calkins and Fletcher. As I continued to refine the role, I was able to differentiate (or tailor) writing instruction, which in turn diminished the range of struggles students were experiencing. Influenced in large part by the work of Fletcher and Portalupi (2001) as well as Calkins, Hartman, and White (2005), I set up the architecture of the writing conference to take the form in Figure 2.
I reserve time for conferences during each class session, and unlike earlier in the course where I roved around the room, I meet with only four or five students, depending on the thesis express length and frequency of class meetings. The conferences are relatively short, lasting anywhere from five to ten minutes, and are conducted across phases of the writing process including prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing.
While in class, I confer with students during the independent writing portion of the class, designating a small meeting space in the back of the room, or as the physical environment allows from one semester to the next. I determine with whom I confer by maintaining a status of the class chart on which students insert name cards to indicate where they are in the writing process. On some occasions, I simultaneously organize peer-to- peer conferences that students arrange with writing partners. I provide students with a peer-to-peer conference guide so that the conversations are productive. When I confer with students, I begin with the important ritual of receiving the piece, originally a peer response Gair Slaying the Writing Monsters 448 Figure 2 Writing Conference Process strategy developed by Graves (1983), then proceed to act as a writing coach, assess, and re-engage struggling writers. For me, receiving the piece means giving the writer an audience (whether a teacher or peer) and listening to him or her read a writing piece at various stages of the writing process. Oftentimes students are hesitant to share their writing because it requires some risk-taking (something that does not come easily to all students), and as such, appreciate an accepting audience. In receiving a piece, I put corrective tendencies aside and describe the effect that the writing has on me as a reader, and not as an instructor.
It is also an opportunity to ask questions that may help expand the writing. In doing so, I periodically draw on my qualitative research skills in interviewing wherein I position myself as learner and exhibit a degree of naivete, along with the practice of analytic listening. Thirdly, during each conference I sit side-by-side the writer signifying that a collegial interaction is about to take place. I also have green, yellow, and pink highlighters ready for use. A green highlighter is used to mark the effective use of craft traits and what the writer does well, the yellow to highlight suggestions and elements of writing in need of revision, and pink to indicate underdeveloped parts or draw attention to writing conventions such as grammar, punctuation, spelling, and overall readability that need to be addressed later during the editing phase. To give the reader a sense of the dialogue, a selective transcription of a conference with a writer at the revision phase of the writing process is provided in the Appendix.
After reflecting on this writing conference and others, I added my journal notes to highlight certain common practices of which I became more aware and proficient in, with each new cohort of students.