Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rules for a classroom writer's workshop

A writer's workshop is one of the best ways to advance student writers both in their writing skills and in their personal recognition that they are part of a community.  This is especially important in the classroom where many students may be admitting for the first time that they write because they like it.  There is much I can say about building this community feeling, but I am just going to focus on key rules to teach students how to participate in a workshop.

Both the writer and the critic must use their pens with thought.
The workshop critic
  • Focus on the writing, not the writer.  This workshop is not an opportunity to attack.  This is where the teacher/mediator must model the behavior required.  (I always go last and never pull my punches. The first workshop is always awkward since I make the students go first in order of seniority (so the most experienced writers set the tone. When necessary, I quietly redirect comments or responses to maintain the rules.)
  • Honor the writer's voice.  In other words, don't change the writing into something you might have written.  In fact, you must make an effort to appreciate this writer's voice and work to help the writer develop it.
  • Be honest and kind.  Being kind without honesty does not help the writer.  And being honest without kindness for the sensitivity of a young writer is foolishness and destructive.
  • Point out what is good and why (often).  Every writer needs to know where it worked, so he or she can do it again.
  • Don't just say what needs work; give suggestions for how it might be improved.  Then don't expect the writer to use your suggestions. The intention is to give inspiration so the writer comes up with something original that fits both the writer's style and the needs of the work.
  • Be clear and specific about both fine work and work that needs redrafting.  Also as a group, agree on routine symbols.  A question mark could mean confusion while an exclamation mark could mean especially fine image (or whatever was underlined).

The workshop writer

  • The writer must turn in as quality a work as possible.  Don't write it the night before you distribute it.
  • Distribute your work in as timely a manner as possible.  All workshop members need time to look over the work.  Two days before a workshop is minimal.
  • Don't take criticism personally.  The workshop is about the work.  Learn to put up a wall that allows you to listen with a willingness to consider change rather than a defense against every suggestion.
  • Do not explain to the others what you meant.  If they could not understand it, then you did not do it correctly.  I tell my students they must take the criticism in silence.  They may answer questions if asked, but may not volunteer information.
  • If you have concerns you want addressed, put questions at the top of your work, so the other members have time to consider them and be prepared to give you useful answers.
  • Do not provide a rewritten work that has not gone through considerable change.

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