I have written a lot of blog posts about writing workshop over the years, because no matter how my praxis has evolved through the acquisition of degrees and experience with the National Writing Project (to name two of my primary influences as a teacher of writers) I know as a writer that my transformative experiences took place in a writing group. I have spent my entire teaching career trying to replicate that experience for my students.
It is difficult to discuss writing workshop because when educators talk and write about writing workshop they may be addressing two different, yet related, practices. For many writers, creative writers in particular, a workshop often involves a group of writers engaged in intensive discussion, examination even, of a piece of writing. Yet for many educators a writing workshop is not an event but a practice or method of teaching that centers on the writer. As a teacher of writers steeped in the National Writing Project tradition, my class design follows the writing workshop tradition. However, as we approach the end of a unit and the drafting and polishing of a deliverable there is always a workshop session (or rather cycle) intended to provide direct feedback on the writing as well as the writer’s ideas as we do in early feedback loops.
We begin this process by examining our specific rhetorical context for the unit and deliverable by noting first the lessons, writing, and materials we have learned, drafted, and compiled so far in the unit. So, for example, during our recently completed unit that meant examining the snaps we created exploring our personal values and our American values as well as This I Believe essays that we had identified as good models for our work. This process also involves crowd-sourcing a list of guidelines, strategies, and tips for our community of writers as they begin the actual work of writing their deliverable. The next step is to consider the standards their work is expected to meet so we look at the learner outcomes for our course established by Morehead State University, the English Department, and me. Until this summer, the last step in the preparation for drafting and then workshopping those drafts was to collaborate on the standards we would use to measure the success of the deliverables crafted for this unit.
This summer while creating a summer writing camp for the Morehead Writing Project my co-leader and I leaned heavily into Liz Prather’s Project-Based Writing and that work led me to change the structure of the workshop feedback process in my classes. As a NWP teacher I have always used some version of the author’s agenda combined with feedback guidelines (Bless-Press-Address, Praise-Question-Polish, Good-Bad-Ugly), but without a lot of support (and sometimes even with it) too often the agenda and the feedback still tended toward the superficial – especially in a larger class where I could not provide as much personal guidance. So this summer and now this fall, my workshop preparation has included expecting each writer to develop some open-ended questions (questions that should come out of the tips as well as the standards we have collaboratively developed) to pose to their peer reviewers. Some popular questions included: ” How did I support my claim with my personal experience and values?” and “How do I appeal to the heart and mind of the reader?” Reviewers are expected to both answer the question and highlight sections of the text to support their answer. I love how considering the questions as well as the answers anchors the conversation in the text and provides structure for the writer and reader. Many of my students commented on how helpful this process was for them (as both a writer and reader). I hope this experience is just one more tool that they can add to their equipment as a writer.
It is also important to note that this semester this entire process was run through HyperDocs due to the HyFlex nature of my fall classes. Even though our workshop process is virtual and asynchronous it is also highly interactive thanks to the feedback loops I use to support this work. The addition of this Project-Based Writing inspired activity has improved the quality of our workshop, but a key part of the success is that the activity was carefully integrated into a class ecosystem where we had a thriving community of writers already engaged in serious rhetorical work. What does your workshop process look like? What questions do you have about running a writing workshop in an online or hybrid class?