Supporting…and SUSTAINING Independent Writers


Summer is officially off and running!  After some (much needed) R&R and tackling two great texts: Escaping the School Leader’s Dunk Tank (Coda & Jetter) and Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Putnam) it’s time to catch-up on my periodicals!  Earlier this week, I finished a great article written by Cheri Williams for Reading Teacher Magazine about utilizing interactive writing to support our young authors.  In addition to sharing her case studies and corresponding data, Williams included six writing processes and strategies that would be the focus for instruction.

Certainly all six areas that Williams included are equally essential; however, one in particular called out to me: Monitoring Meaning & Sustaining Composing.  After all, isn’t this what want we ultimately want for our students…to become independent writers?  Let’s face it…if each of us had a dollar for every time we heard: I don’t know what to write about or I don’t remember what I wrote there or How do you spell ___, we could all afford that summer home on the Caymans! 

Whenever we expect our students to work independently, the conversation frequently turns towards classroom management (Domain 2 for my Danielson FFT peeps)…and this is where Williams really got me thinking!  Her lens didn’t focus on these aspects at all!  Instead, she chose to highlight and integrate various components of the ELA block to support students as they write.  This can be done as an interactive writing experience, during a mini-lesson or during conferring! 

As you read my reflections below, keep in mind that we’re not adding something new!  Instead, consider how explicit instruction linked to each of these areas can be integrated into our current writer’s workshop programming…and don’t forget to share your reflections via social media or in the comments section below!

Create Opportunities to Link to T1 Word Work/Phonics: Feedback and support for encoding should always come back to the common language we’ve established through FUNdations!  Keep those dry erase boards ready to use as “hold-ups” during mini-lessons and refer to those anchor charts frequently.  Most importantly, keep this in mind as you plan and review pacing guides regularly.  Another area that Williams focuses on is our sight words.  As she, states…make your mantra: That’s a sight/spelling word, you know how to spell it! Set your expectations high and be consistent!

This is one area in particular that I have had the opportunity to talk about with the #BullockES 1st grade team quite a bit.  During the past year, we have spent a great deal of time reviewing our writing, FUNdations and read aloud pacing guides and the feedback has been so positive!  Students are making deeper connections and are growing in leaps and bounds!

Create Opportunities to Link to Classroom Texts:  What’s your “go to” when a student says “I don’t know what to write about”?  Why not direct them to previous read aloud texts & student book bins for inspiration and topics…after all; good writers are also readers!  Creating an anchor chart that lists the class’ knowledge/experiences or “things we are experts in” can be a helpful tool for students as well.

An easy way to make textual supports part of writing your writing block is to include a “Writer’s Resource Bin” in your classroom library or in your writing station.  This can include texts aligned to the current essential question (read aloud selections or texts pulled from the classroom/guided reading library) or a photo library of previous anchor charts (there’s only so much wall space).

Create Opportunities for Students to Reread their Writing:  What have I done countless times as I sit here writing (in addition to keeping my coffee cup full)?  REREADING portions of this piece!  I also took time after writing each section to reread.  Then, after that, I did some additional rereading…you get the point!  This is such a crucial piece of meaning making and in helping students to “hold [their] text in short-term memory” as they write (never mind how it helps to bring one-one, spacing, and fluency/prosody to the forefront of comprehension).    

As stated above, let’s not make our job harder!  Take the “stop & jot” routines that we utilize regularly during reading instruction and have post-its ready for students to annotate their own writing!  This could be utilized to support word choice, to save a question for conference time or to include some “rough draft” ideas.  The point is that students will be making changes as they read, not just as they write, allowing them to keep the big idea of their compositions in mind. 

Here comes the million-dollar question: When will we fit all the rereading in?  I recommend making rereading a specific part of every transition during the writing block.  Here’s how it could work:

  • Once the mini-lesson concludes and students return to their desks for independent writing, set a timer and let them know: It’s time for your reread. Start each session this way!
  • This reread will then be the kick-off for each conference! Ask the student to share what they reread, to share any thoughts or notes and then jump off with your usual conferring routines for that student.  Talk about making conference time student-centered!
  • Once the conference has concluded and you’re off and running, ask the student to do a quick reread before they continuing writing.
  • Lastly, use this to focus the (often tedious, yes, I said it) “author’s share.” Ask (or select a stand out student) who had an “Amazing Author” or “Radical Writer” moment! Have them come up to the document camera to reread a portion and share their “aha” moment!





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