The Writing Workshop Launch: An Iterative Process

It’s launch time in most of the schools that I support.

Teachers are welcoming writers into new spaces, establishing routines, and filling their hearts and minds with renewed promise: This year, we will become writers.

We’re always becoming, aren’t we?

We’re always beginning again.

This year, I’m celebrating twenty five years of launching writing workshop. Of course, twenty five years ago, no one was using the word launch to describe the beginning of a new year of  workshop, and back then, I was teaching in my own little classroom in Tonawanda, New York. But it was a beginning, and much of what I did to welcome writers then is still very relevant today, as I launch Make Writing Pop-Up Studios, makerspaces, and workshops in different corners of the country that are starting to feel more and more like home.

I have to be honest, though: Much has changed as well. And that’s a good thing.

Last week, several teachers messaged or emailed me, asking how launch might be different inside of studios and workshops where kids make writing. I promised to draft a quick post in response, embedding helpful resources along the way.

In my experience, those who make writing thrive inside of environments that evolve over time. I love inviting kids to explore, make observations, and frame great theories and questions about what they’re noticing in our new space and what they’re wondering about. A few weeks ago, I led a week-long Make Writing Pop-Up Studio in a gorgeous setting that was filled to the brim with interesting materials. I challenged kids to wander the room, locate one object that made them curious, and zoom in one small bit of it. Rather than sketching the whole, they were asked to sketch a part, using as many details as possible. Then, writers tried to guess what their friends were drawing and why each maker chose to zoom in on selected parts of each whole. This provoked deeper conversations about what was most and least important inside of the space and how certain materials and tools would be used and maintained. There are other ways to introduce kids to a space as well: For instance, I enjoy tapping veteran writers to give “grand tours” of established spaces for those who are new to the group. And anytime kids play a role in designing the space or establishing norms about its use, our launch tends to be much more successful.

It’s important to begin making and writing right away. Here, we don’t control for quality. We simply sink kids into design and the process. Fire starters are a great way to begin, but I find it helpful to practice empathy as well. Any writing experience that helps me learn more about who my students are, what matters to them, and what they prefer to write, make, and do outside of school is usually quite rewarding. Helping them notice and name their strengths and values is important, too. I adjust my lesson and unit plans in response to what I learn. Empathy mapping is a useful approach that can be adapted for all ages.

In recent years, I’ve begun rethinking how I frame our purposes. The first days of workshop provide powerful opportunities to begin inspiring what I call other-centeredness. It’s clunky, I know. That’s what makes kids remember it. Here’s the thing: Twenty five years ago, I was all about inviting kids to bring their outside lives into workshop. I wanted them to wrap their drafts around the things that mattered. To them. And I still think this is important, but I don’t think it’s enough. In recent years, I’ve started learning more about design thinking, and what I’ve learned has me rethinking how I frame our purposes as writers. This is shifting my practice.

I continue to wonder:

What if writers truly understood that they write for real audiences……not simply themselves?

What if we helped them define their readers interests and needs, using a variety of explicit strategies like surveys, observation, immersion, or interviewing?

What if we helped them choose their topics based upon the evidence gleaned from these data?

What if their writing influenced their audiences by attending to their interests and needs in ways that were truly appreciated?

Here’s an approach I’ve used during previous workshop launches. 

I’m still tinkering around with it, and I have some new ideas to share as well.

I hope this quick first post generates some good thinking and conversation about bringing the traditional workshop launch into studios and makerspaces for writers. More to come soon.

In the mean time, come chat with me a bit: How has each iteration of your launch changed the way you welcome kids into your space and into the worlds of making and writing?

 

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