My previous post, You Catch More Bees with Honey, was about breaking old habits and establishing new routines that limited frustration and increased productivity in the classroom.
Well, this week I became a little frustrated with the way writing workshop was going because my students were not focusing on writing, in spite of the changes I had made–they were not on task. They were talking, walking around the room, and creating a lot less than they should be with the time I was giving them. I imagined that other teachers must experience the same problem, but when I googled phrases like “writing workshop model” and “writing workshop frustrations” I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I needed to know how to enforce the importance of focus during the writing process. And Roy Peter Clark’s prompt chart, which I had displayed prominently in the room was not working either.
Here is the prompt chart I created from Roy Peter Clark’s tweet on August 24, 2016 (in case you’d like to create one of your own).
So how was I going to help my students understand the importance of focusing while they were writing? Too Noisy, a new prompt chart, and Jolly Ranchers.
Shhh! It’s Too Noisy in Here!
Too Noisy Online is a free online app for the classroom that helps teachers and students maintain a healthy noise level.
By Thursday of last week I was so tired of nagging my students about the noise level and lack of concentration on their work that I knew something had to change. In spite of my creating a news room atmosphere and reminding students of their impending deadline, they just were not using their time wisely. This app became part of the solution.
Too Noisy provides students with a visual of the noise level in the classroom. I think part of the reason I was frustrated with my students is that I did not understand that they did not realize how loud they were. This app shows them what their noise level and provided them with the proof they needed.
When the noise level is acceptable, the graphics look like this:
When the class is too noisy, the graphic looks like this:
This application has an invaluable feature: It allows the teacher to adjust the sensitivity according to the activity. So if you want the class to be exceptionally quiet, you can heighten the sensitivity. If you want to allow a little bit of talking and sharing, you can lower the sensitivity. To do this, click on the settings icon (a gear in the lower right hand corner of the screen).
At the beginning of class, I showed the app to the students by projecting it onto the Smart Board. I asked them to whisper to each other and watch what happened on the screen. Then I asked them to shout and yell. The meter moved into the read, and the happy face changed to a frown. The students laughed but clearly understood the expectation.
Quiet Time = Focus Time
After demonstrating Too Noisy, I reiterated the protocol for writer’s workshop using a new prompt chart instead of Roy Peter Clark’s. It’s an amalgamation of different images I found when searching “writer’s workshop anchor chart” in Google Images. I modeled the format after a pin on Pinterest by Hello Literacy and borrowed ideas from several different charts I found as well as adding my own expectations. I think in the future, I will create charts like this with the students, but for the sake of expediency this time, I delineated the expectations. What mattered to me most, my primary goal, was to make sure the students were engaging with their writing for a concentrated period of time. After all, their deadline is approaching closer every day! My student teacher Rebecca Spangenberg, helped me create chart below. She is a nascent blogger, reflecting on her student teaching experiences, and if you are interested, you can also follow her on WordPress at rebeccaspangenberg.wordpress.com.
Never Underestimate the Power of Rewards!
Every single class period met my expectations on Friday, and as a result, I feel much more confident about moving forward with writing workshop. Next Wednesday, students will begin publishing their news stories using Google Sites, and many of them are excited (and some are are a bit nervous) about the fact that their work will be read by a wider audience. At the end of Friday’s class period, I gave students four Jolly Ranchers for their effort and hard work.
If you can share any strategies that you are using to create a smoother and more productive writer’s workshop, please share them with me! I am a newbie and welcome any suggestions you have!