Announcer:

This podcast is produced by Benchmark Education.

Kevin Carlson:

Writer's Workshop can be complicated. Some students love it. Some are intimidated by it. Each of them comes to it with different instructional needs. But what if Writer's Workshop was simple instead? In this episode, you'll learn some of the best ways to support the writers in your classroom. I'm Kevin Carlson, and this is Teachers Talk Shop.

Patty McGee:

When we simplify writing instruction, it becomes light, joyful, deeply meaningful, and fulfilling for everyone involved.

Kevin Carlson:

That is Patty McGee. Usually on this podcast, Patty is the person asking the questions, but today she's giving the answers. Patty has written a new professional development book called Writer's Workshop Made Simple: Seven Essentials for Every Classroom and Every Writer. Today on the show, Patty and I talk a little bit about the book, and then Patty shares some of the best ways for teachers to support writers in the classroom. Here is my conversation with author and educator Patty McGee.

Kevin Carlson:

Let's talk, Patty, about the book a little bit. Why this book? Why now?

Patty McGee:

This beautiful book is actually like twenty-six years of of learning myself and about a third of my my drive now in hard copy. And it just felt like I've gotten to a point of learning about the teaching of writing to be able to boil it down to seven pieces or parts that will benefit student writers and make the job of the writing teacher so much easier.

Kevin Carlson:

What's your favorite part of the book?

Patty McGee:

My favorite part of the book is about feedback, specifically. Early on, let's say, like 10 years into my career, I realize that the type of feedback that I was giving was really fix-it and corrective feedback, and I realized that I was doing a number on my students, like, well-being or, like, healthy identity as a writer. And I meant well, but it was actually not really doing uplifting or strengthening strengths or showing next steps. So I looked outside of my own school practices and I looked around for relationships. That feedback really worked, and the relationship that I found was my Aunt Helen teaching my Dad how to crochet. And so I included in the book a little section on my Dad and my Aunt Helen, and the things my Aunt Helen did to give him feedback in making blankets over all the years and looking at my Dad now who can make a blanket without needing my Aunt Helen. So it was just such a personal learning journey for myself and just such a cool thing to witness this learning relationship between my aunt and my Dad. So that was my favorite to write about and how we can just bring that into schools.

Kevin Carlson:

Yeah. Can you give an example?

Patty McGee:

Yeah. So one example is one of the things that my Aunt Helen always did was when she would come and work with my dad, he had his crocheting materials, his yarn and crochet hook and anything else that he needed. She also brought her crocheting things. So instead of taking his blanket--because it was always blanket, that was his genre was blanket-- instead of taking his blanket and fixing it for him. Her focus was on helping him become a better crocheter, and one thing she would do was she would take her own crocheting materials and model steps for him and then coach him as he tried it in his own blanket. And so that type of model and coach experience was a really good example for me in elevating my feedback practices and also making them as effective as possible because I was always thinking that, well, if I'm not fixing student writing, am I still teaching? And Aunt Helen showed me that I'm actually teaching better when I'm modeling, using my own writing and coaching students in theirs. So that's just one example.

Kevin Carlson:

What changes did you see in your students when you started giving feedback that way?

Patty McGee:

Yeah. So there were so many shifts that I started to notice. First, I noticed an ease in having conversations with me about their writing because there wasn't this anticipation of nervousness or fear around, OK, she's going to take a piece of my writing, which already took a lot from me. Very complex act in schools is to create a piece of writing. And then here I am, swooping in and fixing it and correcting it. It just set up like an uncomfortable type of relationship. But when I shifted to modeling strategies and then coaching, it alleviated that tension, that discomfort. And it just set up a more open relationship and open conversation because there was always an acknowledgment of what is working and also an opportunity for growth. So I just I saw a big shift in the approach from students. I also saw a big shift in independent use of the strategy that I modeled. So it wasn't just in that one spot and that one point in the piece of writing, but instead student writers are able to use that same feedback in multiple places throughout their piece and in multiple pieces. So I saw this like longevity and transfer begin to happen as well.

Kevin Carlson:

After the break, how you can best support the writers in your classroom. Stay with us.

Announcer:

When children write, they experience the influence their voice has in the world. In Writer's Workshop Made Simple, literacy expert Patty McGee offers a vital guide for the Writer's Workshop approach to teaching writing, one that features the seven essentials for establishing a thriving Writer's Workshop and a greater sense of community in the classroom.

Patty McGee:

Hi, I'm Patty McGee, author of Writer's Workshop Made Simple. Throughout my career, I've been committed to fostering classroom environments where all writers thrive, so their voices build a more inclusive and equitable world. Using a writer's workshop approach can simplify instruction and empower students.

Announcer:

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

Kevin Carlson:

Let's move on and talk about some of the best ways for teachers to support writers in the classroom. Why don't you first name what they are, and then we can go back and talk about each of them individually?

Patty McGee:

Okay. So it was actually kind of hard to narrow this down to just a few because we know that there will be there are many things that can support writers. So I just wanted to prioritize those things. And these were the four that I chose. One our word choice as educators. What we say to students can make a huge difference in how they approach writing learning, writing instruction, writing creation. Learning goals. Setting specific practical, student-friendly goals that aren't just for a day, but are for over time. Also building in lots of conversation between students as an act of oral rehearsal, so that writing is not a silent type of experience the entire time. And then finally, reflection. Building in time for reflection, which was probably the thing that was most overlooked or time ran out, and then a boom: reflection was forgotten. And I know that when I do build it in, learning sticks. So word choice on the part of the teacher, learning goals that transcend just a single day, conversation, and reflection. So those are my four that I boiled it down to.

Kevin Carlson:

Ok, let's dig in to each one of them a little bit. Let's start off with word choice.

Patty McGee:

Ok, so I read probably one of the most pivotal professional books that I've ever read from Peter Johnston called Choice Words. And when I read that book, he basically chronicles teachers' language and the outcomes on student learning. It's one hundred pages of that. And I realized that something so small can have incredible significance in student learning just by shifting word choice. So I spent a lot of time with like fix-it, word choice, like "I think this part can be better." "I think that I don't I don't quite understand what you're saying here." Or "This part feels a little unclear." Or "Your spelling could use some extra work." And that is kind of the traditional way that we're used to getting feedback as adults. If we look back at the feedback we've gotten over the years in writing, that is often the word choice that's used. And I learned, though, that we can say the same thing, but in a way that invites students into deeper learning and opportunities in writing without the feeling of. I don't know, for lack of a better word, shame it was almost like my language was like shaming kids into making choices in their writing that I thought should be there.

Patty McGee:

So just some examples like thinking about naming strengths, for example, so I was constantly on the lookout for What's wrong here? What is it that that needs fixing? What is it that I can say they can do to improve their writing? And and I'm not going to say that I never give next step feedback, but the first thing and I think the most important thing as the foundation for all feedback is to make it really clear to a student what their strength is, whether in habits as a writer or strengths in their writing that's in front of them. So this really comes from Brene Brown, and one of her guidelines for feedback is that we, as those giving feedback to someone else, we're here to show you how to use your strengths to meet your challenges. And time and time again, whether I'm talking to adults or talking to kids, they're able to name all of their challenges really crystal clearly and not necessarily able to name what their strengths are. We need those strengths. We stand on those strengths as we continue to grow. So if we begin choosing words of strength: "Your writing is working here." "What I'm noticing you did was." And you say, "A strength in your writing that you can continue to do is adding dialogue to your stories." "Something strong about your writing that you're doing that, I can see, is you're adding facts and then examples to go with them. Keep doing that."

Patty McGee:

So when we begin with a focus on strength, and I just want to be honest with you, I'm still in my head seeing the Fix-It things that has not gone away. I'm simply choosing to not say those things first. I'm choosing to say the strengths that I'm seeing. And then offer next steps. So where can we grow from there? So "You've revised your writing and you've included facts and examples. Now you're ready for.." And I might say, "including a mini story." "You're ready for some graphics to include in your writing." So when we are giving that quote unquote fix-it feedback, we're reframing it instead of being fix-it, it's being the next opportunity for you. It's almost like an invitation into the next space that they're ready to go to, and that makes a huge difference in how students approach writing because it is such a vulnerable act. And in fact, I would argue it's the most vulnerable act that students take on academically in school. And so when we can choose the words that name strengths and next steps, we are creating safety in that time of feeling vulnerable.

Kevin Carlson:

Nice.

Patty McGee:

I could dig into that forever, but I know we have three others to talk about.

Kevin Carlson:

Ok, let's let's move on to talk about learning goals a little bit.

Patty McGee:

Mm hmm. So one of the things that I found that has solved virtually all of the tricky parts of teaching writing is having goals. And I think I don't necessarily phrase goals like the rest of the world phrases goals. But let me just give you a couple of examples, like some of the goals that I set with students that go throughout either a unit or through an entire piece or assignment, depending on the approach that we take in writing instruction is I like three to five goals. And those goals guide all of the choices that we make. So those goals might sound something like "Writers revise." "Writers come up with ideas and organize those ideas." "Writers make their writing easy for their reader to read," which is just code for conventionally sound and grammatically sound. So let's say we have those three goals. Those goals help with all of the different parts and pieces of teaching writing. But let me just say something about goals, not just in school, but like in the real world. We are driven by goals. Sometimes we don't even know that we have chosen goals for ourselves, and we are making intentional choices toward those goals. Like, everybody has some type of goal in their life. Like it might be nutrition goals, fitness goals, home decorating goals, travel goals. And once we have them in our minds, whatever choices we make help us move ever closer or grow within those goals. And the same thing happens in the classroom. So let's take like "Writers revise," for example. I use that in pretty much every grade level. Sometimes I just add some words to it, depending on the grade level, but it works with Kindergarten all the way up to 12th grade. It's a very generic goal. And the hard parts of writing sometimes are prioritizing what we're doing with our writing.

Patty McGee:

So if we have a goal that focuses up us for the day and focuses us over time, then we are choosing things that we're teaching that help kids reach that goal. Students know what they're working toward, not just completing a piece, but the actual work within that piece. It helps us decide what to give feedback on and, even harder, to decide what not to give feedback on. So if I'm focusing on revision right now, then I am not going to give feedback on generating ideas or I'm not going to give feedback on, say, structure. I'm just going to give feedback on revision. There will be other times for those goals, but it helps me prioritize what I'm giving feedback on. And that goal-centered teaching, where we're constantly turning back to the goals as a touchstone really help us make the most of every choice that we make instructional because if we're all--and maybe not all of us are, but I can tell you, I am--coming from a fix-it mindset all the time. Like I told you, that's the first thing that comes into my mind. Then I just want to get into student writing and just fix it for them. But if I have goals that are focusing me, it's helping me prioritize the instruction that I'm going to choose. So they have a huge effect and they help students be more...to have more ownership in their writing. So if they know what the goals are, they're like, Well, I revise like this, but I would also like to learn another way to revise. Or here's what I know about revision. And then I can know, Oh, here's what I can add to that knowledge around revision. So it just helps all around.

Kevin Carlson:

Let's talk about the third one, which was build in lots of conversation between students.

Patty McGee:

Yes. So just a little secret that my friends know that a lot of people professionally don't know about me, but I love to story tell some of the like most embarrassing or wild moments in my life. And my friends love to hear these. And I can tell you that every time I tell a story again, there's something that I sharpen about it that I get like an extra laugh at. Or I might see, like, a different reaction from my friends about. So like, I go around life not realizing this until reflecting on it, that I'm constantly orally rehearsing these stories that I want to turn into a memoir one day. And it's such a natural thing for writers to do. Same thing happens like when I'm creating things professionally. I like to just like, try it out, rehearse it, say it out loud. And that type of oral rehearsal, I've noticed, is so important for every grade level, every age level in writing. Sometimes when I'm working with teachers, I'm asking us to do some writing ourselves and teachers naturally turn to one another and have a conversation about their writing. And so it's really an ageless type of experience that can really support what kids end up putting down on the page, what writers end up putting down on the page.

Patty McGee:

So building in partnerships and times for conversation and saying out loud what we're thinking about writing and looking at another person, our audience for their reactions, both verbal and nonverbal reactions, that oral rehearsal is a form of revision. It lets us revise before we even put a word on the page. And it helps us create out loud without all of the other parts and pieces that make writing so challenging. So if we can first compose and create, then we can layer in sentence structure, paragraphing, elaboration, all of that. But it comes after we've made meaning through conversation. So having conversation with partners on a daily basis, whether it's really just working on something small in our writing or something larger, like the whole concept or idea, I can tell you that I just as as a writer myself, I'm constantly turning to others who do this work and and talk to them about those things professionally. And also, like I told you, my friends, for my future collection of memoir. Everyone needs a partner to talk to.

Kevin Carlson:

Let's also talk now about the fourth one you mentioned intentional time for reflection.

Patty McGee:

Yes. So reflection. First, let me just quote John Dewey and John Dewey said that we don't learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience. And I often say that reflection is the stickiest glue for the brain. So if we want to not just learn and but hold on to that learning, building in time for reflection is very helpful. And building in time for reflection, where we're talking to someone else about what we're reflecting on and using the goal to be the point of reflection, we've really created an incredible combination of holding onto our learning and also thinking toward possibilities of where we can grow. So something as simple as the goal today was to revise, share with a partner what you did to revise. And then share your reaction with your partner to their revisions. And so there's that conversation, there's a little bit of that aural rehearsal and then there's that stickiness that happens because we've decided to pause and think about what we've experienced so that we can hold on to it for the future. Reflection can often be the most easily eliminated part of our day because I personally need to set a timer so that I like get out of my constant feedback loop that I'm so into when I'm working with students and know that just a couple of minutes, even two minutes of reflection can make a huge difference in creating cohesive learning across time and internalizing what we've learned in ways that we can then use again and again in the future.

Kevin Carlson:

After the break, some final thoughts from Patty McGee. Stay with us!

Patty McGee:

Hi, I'm Patty McGee, author of Writer's Workshop Made Simple. Throughout my career, I've been committed to fostering classroom environments where all writers thrive, so their voices build a more inclusive and equitable world. Teach children to write, and you teach them to think, to imagine and feel their connection to others. In this new online learning series, I'll help you amplify children's voices through simple yet powerful instruction. I thank you for joining me on this journey. From Benchmark Education, these are the Seven Essentials of Writer's Workshop.

Kevin Carlson:

Learn more about Benchmark Academy at BenchmarkEducation.com

Kevin Carlson:

Patty, do you have any final thoughts

Patty McGee:

When we simplify writing instruction, it becomes light, joyful, deeply meaningful, and fulfilling for everyone involved. Just today I was in a classroom and I was helping. I was actually doing all the teaching, and we were thinking about beginning memoir. And one of the things that we as teachers were talking about before we went in was just that you just don't know if students will feel really open about sharing the big messages or lessons learned in their lives, especially. I was in a middle school for this. But we had a goal. We had a strategy. I modeled, similar to what my Aunt Helen did with my Dad and crocheting. My word choice was very particular in being supportive and invitational. And we were blown away at what students were willing to put down on the page, what topics and stories and qualities of themselves they were willing to explore in just one half an hour of writing time. So sometimes taking the very complex experience of teaching writing and learning writing and simplifying it down to just its basics creates a structure and a setting where we are wowed by what can happen.

Kevin Carlson:

Thank you, Patty McGee, and thank you for listening to Teachers Talk Shop. Patty's new professional development book is called Writer's Workshop Made Simple: Seven Essentials for Every Classroom and Every Writer. You can learn more about it and order it at PDEssentials.com. For Benchmark Education, I'm Kevin Carlson.