Announcer:

This podcast is produced by Benchmark Education.

Kevin Carlson:

Collaborative writing. What is it? How does it work? How do you get started with it? Most importantly, can it help your students? I'm Kevin Carlson, and this is Teachers Talk Shop.

Leah Mermelstein:

To begin the year by ensuring that students are successful is going to boost their confidence. And I feel it's going to help them be able to tackle harder things later on the year where they might not be successful. But begin the year success.

Kevin Carlson:

That is Leah Mermelstein. She is an author and literacy consultant who works with teachers and coaches to implement new methods for their classrooms. Her most recent book is called We Do Writing, and it's all about collaborative writing. Author and educator Patty McGee spoke with Leah recently to learn more.

Patty McGee:

Let's just start off by talking about what you mean by We Do Writing. I know it's a collaborative type of writing and if you could just define it a little bit for us and think and maybe share some things about collaborative writing or We Do Writing that are important to consider in the start of a school year.

Leah Mermelstein:

Fantastic. So collaborative writing is a word out there used in many different ways. There's lots of ways that kids can collaborate when they're writing. But in my We Do model I'm talking about a very specific kind of collaborative writing and that's a collaboration between teachers and students. And the purpose of it is to enable students to be successful with something that they wouldn't be able to be successful with. Yet. In the book, I have lots of examples, but a few I'll just share now, is this an example where the teacher is working with the whole class. They're writing collaboratively, and they're writing a letter to the parents in that class asking if they'll donate math folders. So that's a kind of collaborative writing that is kind of sharing the work with the whole class.

Another example I have in the book is a teacher working with a group of third graders during social studies. They're writing collaboratively. They're they've been studying Greta Thunberg. And now the kids are each writing their own piece about Greta Thunberg, which is deepening their knowledge of the Greta Thunberg, but the teachers are also collaboratively working with them to use transition words to push their thinking a little bit further. The teachers guiding them, working collaboratively. And of course, the teacher can work one-on-one with children as they apply what they've been learning to their own unique ideas.

But the commonality between all three of those examples is that the teacher is working collaboratively with students to enable them to do something that they wouldn't be able to do on their own yet. So that's how I would define it. And there's so many reasons to begin to think about using collaborative writing across the whole year, but especially at the start of the year. But I'll share three of my top three reasons that I think that it's especially important in any year, but especially this year we're about to move into. So the first is confidence boosting. Any year, you know, one of the things I try to do as a teacher is put myself into the minds of children and how they might feel when they're starting the year. And some children might feel super excited and some children might feel super nervous. And that's true of any year, but especially this upcoming year, and so to begin the year by ensuring that students are successful is going to boost their confidence. And I feel it's going to help them be able to tackle harder things later on the year where they might not be successful. But begin the year with success. Number one reason.

The second reason is to begin the year where children are. Children are going to come in in many different places. We can see the skills and strategies they need and we can work collaboratively to enable them to transfer that into their independent writing. So it's a good way to look to see where children are and build those skills quickly.

And the third reason is I think it's especially the beginning of the year, a really good use of instructional time. When I was a new teacher, I thought writing instruction was my writing workshop. So that was my writing instruction. So I taught kindergarten and I thought, OK, my writing block is forty five minutes. And you can imagine, Patty. I said, let's do writing workshop for forty five minutes. Not a great use of instructional time because those most of those kids could only write independently for 10 or 20 minutes. And so I really think it's a good use of time to think that OK, I can have my writing workshop or my writing time, but I also can build that that time by having more collaborative writing experiences with my students as well.

Patty McGee:

Yeah, it feels so, like, what's that phrase all for one and one for all. Right? Where everyone is invested in each other's learning. The teacher is obviously facilitating a major part of that. But that collaboration is like teamwork and that feeling for students in the classroom being an important part of the team as they collaborate is really something so important. You talked about confidence building, and I think it also just establishes that sense of inclusion in the classroom that when we do writing together, we have this this sense of community. And that's just beautiful and so needed in every classroom.

Kevin Carlson:

After the break, different types of collaborative writing for different purposes. Stay with us.

Announcer:

Purpose-driven writing creates the conditions for skill and craft to flourish. In We Do Writing, author and educator Leah Mermelstein draws upon her expertise to help teachers refocus their approach to writing instruction and build the next generation of confident, capable, independent writers.

Leah Mermelstein:

Hi, I'm Leah Mermelstein. I've been in education now for twenty five years. I am the author of five books on the teaching of reading, writing, and the connection between the two. So many teachers deliberately teach things such as spelling and story structure, nonfiction structure, punctuation, and they teach these by modeling for students, which is super important. What my book does is it shows you how to linger in that We Do phase of instruction that many teachers gloss over in the name of modeling.

We Do Writing provides a flexible instructional model that complements any writing curriculum. The book includes helpful classroom examples, writing samples, teaching strategies, and time management tips, as well as research-based myth busters to help dispel misconceptions about best practices for teaching writing.

Leah Mermelstein:

In this book, all students will be seen because the curriculum is centered around them. They'll be able to become joyful, skillful, and purposeful writers.

Announcer:

Find out more about this and other titles at PDEssentials.com. Go teach brilliantly.

Patty McGee:

Thinking about collaborative writing, you're talking about teacher supported writing. Are there different types of collaborative writing?

Leah Mermelstein:

Yes, and that's something I talk a lot about in the book and have been talking with teachers now as I begin to think about next year being in person. So in the We Do model, I talk about three different types of collaborative writing sessions, each session having a different purpose. And when I was writing the book and as I continue to think about the We Do model, I lean on the Simple View of Reading, that research. I also lean more recently on Duke and Cartwright's Active View of Reading, which if you haven't seen that, it's just fascinating. And both of those are frameworks for thinking about what's important about winning. And so I leaned on those to help me think about what's important about writing and what types of collaborative sessions should be part of every elementary classroom. So the first one I talk about is interactive writing, which is a form of collaborative body that's aimed at helping students with the encoding part of writing, with the language conventions, things like spelling, phonics, handwriting, phonemic awareness, punctuation. And so in those types of sessions, all we're working on together is the language conventions in interactive writing. A second type of collaborative writing session I talk about in the We Do model is I talk about Write Aloud. There were some really cool research I looked at while I was thinking about Write Aloud by Bodner and MacLeod. It's called the Production Effect. And the Production Effect is talking about the idea of composing out loud. The idea of saying things out loud, which makes them stickier, makes them stick, which makes sense. But Write Aloud is really all about composing out loud at the sentence level.

Leah Mermelstein:

And we're helping kids put multiple sentences together, but really helping kids think about sentences rich in vocabulary, rich in grammar, and that we're working with kids on practicing those out loud with the hopes if they practice them out loud and compose them together. That those kinds of sentences, those kinds of rich sentences, can become part of their independent writing. So completely different purpose. It's still collaborative writing. But this collaborative writing is focused on composing and practicing which sentences out loud.

And the third type of collaborative writing I call Writing Process. And that really is a bridge one. Where you're bridging the language conventions and the language composition, as kids bring together with you a short piece of writing through an abbreviated writing process. And so in each of those, I also can give different amounts of support to the kids as we work collaboratively. We could share the work. I could guide them for the work. Or I can help them apply it on their own. So in reality, there's nine different types of collaborative writing there because I can do each of those shared, guided, or applied.

And two tips, if I can, about doing them that I have found really helpful. One is to keep them short. And I keep them short because they're not focused on everything. They're focused just on one thing. And the second thing, which I think is super important, is to be careful not to over-scaffold kids, where we're rescuing them from doing the work. But we also have to be careful that we don't under-scaffold kids, where we're not giving them the support to be successful.

Patty McGee:

Yeah, that's really important. And it's just making me so curious, too, because when you think about the three types of collaborative writing and then the different possibilities for those three types, it's like you have a whole buffet of possible ways of supporting student writers. And we know student writers don't learn in a linear way. And so having such so many choices in collaborative writing, it helps us meet students where they are as they're learning. And so it just feels so flexible and responsive.

Leah Mermelstein:

For me, it's been this simple tool for complex work. So the simple tool I can use and I can put my focus on the students, the complex students, and really look at what are their needs. And then this simple tool can help you address their complex needs.

Patty McGee:

Yes, yes. That is reminding me of a quote. Is it Oliver Wendell Holmes says, "I'm looking for the simplicity on the other side of complexity." I love that quote from him because that is so much of what we do as teachers, right? Like we're taking--we're looking at something so complex, and we're working through it. And then finding that simplicity that comes after that complexity is really where that powerful teaching just is found.

Leah Mermelstein:

And, you know, I believe as a literacy consultant, my role is to support teachers. And I really believe that one of the ways teachers deserve and need simple tools for the classroom, their job is so complex that I really see it as my job to figure out simple tools for teachers, to nurture teachers so they can nurture students.

Kevin Carlson:

After the break, simple tips for getting started in the new school year. Stay with us.

Announcer:

PD Essentials is a professional development line for teachers. And coaches. And principals. Research-based theories and practical strategies capture the what, why and how of great teaching. PD Essentials authors are highly-respected leaders in education. They make the complex accessible and offer connections to content and practice. Learn more at PDEssentials.com. Go teach brilliantly.

Patty McGee:

Keeping that simplicity in mind, what kinds of simple tips do you have for getting started in the school year?

Leah Mermelstein:

I have three simple tips for getting started with this in the beginning of the year. And of course, teachers can do more than this, but this is enough to get started. And so my suggestion would be, number one, pick a type of collaborative writing you want to try. So, for example, I was working with a group of kindergarten teachers last week, and they made the decision they weren't going to try all nine of these. Too overwhelming for the beginning of the year. They made a decision that they're going to try to integrate into shared interactive writing into their writing schedule in the beginning of the year because they know that will support their kids in making that transfer with what they're teaching in full. So they chose Interactive Writing. Number to try it out. That's what they're going to do. Now they know. They put into their schedule. So they feel like, yes, this is going to happen. Doesn't take a long time, 10 minutes. But they but they feel really excited. So, number one, they chose interactive writing. Number two, they decided to put it into their literacy block. And number three is, I suggest, trying it in another subject area. So, for example, they're going to try it during social studies as well during their family unit.

Leah Mermelstein:

I'm working with another third grade group. They made a decision to try the writing process sessions because they really want to help the kids with paragraph writing. They're going to try it during their literacy block next year. But then once they try it in their literacy block, they are going to try it during social studies. And I am--one of the things that I am really passionate about is encouraging teachers to have writing during the writing block, but have short collaborative sessions during other times of the day. There is so much research out there about the importance of building students knowledge as a vehicle for reading comprehension. And so when we move--and one of the best ways that children can build their knowledge is by writing about what they're learning. And so by trying it out in a different subject area, you're getting kind of a 10 for one bargain. You're teaching them about writing. You are assessing their knowledge of the topic, and you are pushing their knowledge. You're having them think deeper about that, so three simple tips: choose one to try, try it in your writing block, try it in another subject area.

Patty McGee:

So you're making me really curious now about the possibilities in other subject areas, and obviously you shared the importance that knowledge building is one of those things that just makes us stronger learners all around. It's like a win-win situation. So could you tell me a little bit more about how these can be done? How you can use collaborative writing in other times of the day?

Leah Mermelstein:

I'll give a few examples of what we talked about in my last meeting with teachers. So, for example, a group of fifth grade teachers I was working with, they know they're going to be studying young activists next year in social studies, and they're also going to be working on essays. And so they made a decision. Thesis statements are so challenging for kids. And you know why they're challenging? They're challenging because I need to understand the craft of writing one. But I also have to understand the information well enough to be able to have a sentence that kind of brings together everything I'm going to say in that essay. So these fifth grade teachers know that they are going to work thesis statements during social studies in that way because they will teach them about how to write one, but they also will push them in their thinking of those young activists they're selling. So that's going to be done during social studies.

While a group of first grade teachers I was working with made the decision to have their interactive writing quite often during small group reading instruction. So, for example, they are helping kids with short e's in reading, let's say, well, they can really cement that in at the end of their reading instruction by having the kids write interactively a sentence or some words that will enable them to practice short e. It will really cement that. And in that situation, I almost think of interactive writing as a method for teaching reading. And the other place I really can imagine doing it is in response to reading. And so all of those ways, I just this is one of these kind of conversation that we're having with teachers and really trying to--you know, one of the things that's so exciting about being in person, hopefully next year is really beginning to think. Cornelious Minor talks about the idea of not going back to normal, but going back to a better normal. And for me, one of those better normals is to think outside the box of my writing instruction that sometimes it can be happening during my writing time, but it can be happening during reading, during social studies, in so many different ways.

Patty McGee:

Yeah, absolutely. And it acts almost like a glue, right? It just solidifies so much learning that's happening all over, but then we add in this collaborative writing. And it just really brings it all together, and there's just so many possibilities with it. And also just want to say kids love it, like they just love to be a part of this and collaborate in that way. So it's not just a sound practice and a practice that has so many possibilities. It's also something that kids are deeply engaged in because they just enjoy that experience so much.

Leah Mermelstein:

There's two things that you say that I would love to talk into a little bit. One is the idea of how the collaborative writing cements it together. I think it's a good reminder that the purpose of these collaborative writing sessions is to enable students to be able to do this on their own. The goal of this is transfer. And so by by doing it in lots of different ways, we are keeping to that goal of we're not doing collaborative work. Yes, we're doing collaborative writing because we're all together. That's super fun. And but in the end, we're doing collaborative writing so that children are able to do these things on their own in lots of different situations. So that's number one. The other thing that is about being deeply engaging for kids, it's so true. I think one of the ways we bring social studies to life and we bring reading to life is by writing about it, talking about it. You know, I'm in the middle of taking my own course right now, and I've been blown away by how the information has come to life in the act of writing about it. And so I really have been encouraging the teachers I work with to really think about doing collaborative writing because it's going to make the content come alive.

Patty McGee:

Do you have any final thoughts to share as, you know, teachers are thinking about this, but also getting past that first month? So you give us some tips for just getting started, keeping it simple, trying small parts in certain places. As this really starts to become a wonderful instructional practice that just begins to bloom in the classroom, what are some final tips that you have or thoughts that you have?

Leah Mermelstein:

Two thoughts I have. One is, as I begin to work with teachers and thinking about not just the first month of school, but across the year. One thing we've been thinking about is how to plan writing units keeping collaborative writing in mind. So, for example, when we're planning a unit now, we'll begin by thinking what topics, if we're going to write writing collaboratively during this nonfiction unit or we'll be writing collaboratively during this personal essay unit or this nonfiction unit, what shared topics will we write about? Because we're writing collaboratively, we'll obviously have a shared topic. And so really thinking about what might make sense at that time of the year, what shared topic? To really anticipate as we plan the unit, what types of collaborative writing might we do? What might be our shared interactive writing during that time? What might be our guided writing process during that time? So to anticipate. Of course, our kids will change across the unit, but anticipating what some of those might be has been really, really helpful. It's really, really helpful. And the third thing is to think about those units using the collaborative writing that's created as mentor text for the children.

Patty McGee:

Oh, my gosh that's brilliant.

Leah Mermelstein:

And then, of course, there's a beautiful mentor text that other adult writers have published that we always use, but also have been suggesting that we think about using the ones that we create with kids. And I think what it does is it creates a mentor text that they were part of the creation of. So in essence, it makes it stickier. And so I just have been really encouraging teachers to think about bringing that collaborative writing into their unit planning. And then finally, I think my final suggestion is I just encourage teachers to approach this new year with a with a sense of a better normal. Quite frankly, in the writing of the book I had to come to that hard reflection that my to go to's in writing or modeling and independent writing. And it hit me that those are my two go to's because that's what I liked to do. But when I took a hard look at the kids and the students that I worked with, those to go to's were not enough to ensure that every child transferred. And so I encouraged teachers to think about the idea of collaborative writing as a way to provide equal access because you're giving all children the learning opportunities they need to become successful.

Kevin Carlson:

Thank you, Leah Mermelstein. Thank you, Patty McGee. And thank you for listening to Teachers Talk Shop. You can learn more about Leah's work at Leah Mermelstein.com. That's spelled L-E-A-H-M-E-R-M-E-L-S-T-E-I-N dot com. And you can learn more about her new book We Do Writing at Benchmark Education.com. For Benchmark Education I'm Kevin Carlson.