Welcome to Read – Write – Connect, Inc.

the Internet home of Leah Mermelstein.

Best Writing consultant 002 copyLeah is an internationally recognized literacy consultant who specializes in K-5 Reading and Writing Workshop. She is the President and CEO of Read-Write-Connect, INC. She is also the author of Reading/​​Writing Connections in the K-2 Classroom, (Allyn & Bacon), Don’t Forget to Share (Heinemann) and the co-author of Launching the Writing Workshop (with Lucy Calkins) (Heinemann).


Selected Works

DVD

Quality Writing Instruction
This brand new DVD will assist teachers with high quality writing instruction.

Non-fiction

Don’t Forget to Share: The Crucial Last Step in the Writing Workshop
This brand new book will show you how to make your share sessions more instructional.

Nonfiction

Reading/Writing Connections in the K-2 Classroom: Find the Clarity and Then Blur the Lines
This book demonstrates how through careful, explicit assessing, planning, and teaching every student can understand and use the reading/writing connection to become stronger readers and writers at the same time.

Units of Study for Primary Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum: Launching the Writing Workshop
This book shows teachers how to launch a joyful and rigorous Writing Workshop in their classrooms.

QUICK LINKS

E-mail the author

Authors Guild

findauthors

Leah Mermelstein
536 Grand Street, Ste. 501,
Hoboken, NJ 07030
(917) 503-1947

leahmermelstein@earthlink.net

1Leah best writing consultant 1.4 copy

Blog Posts are Below:

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Some Rough Draft Thinking about the Independent Phase of Writing Workshop

Over the past few months, I’ve dedicated my blog to ideas for helping kids become more independent during Writing Workshop.

As I’ve written these blogs, I’ve struggled a bit with the word independence because I’m not sure it’s exactly the right word to describe what I am aiming for. The truth is, I don’t want kids to just stay out of the teacher’s hair while she’s working with others, nor do I want the kids to just keep busy. What I want is far bigger than that, which is why I sometimes question the word independence.

I’ve decided that for this blog post I will share what it is I am aiming for. These ideas I hold dear and true to my heart because without them, Writing Workshop simply doesn’t work as well as it could.

After I share these ideas, I hope you’ll respond to this post with your own thoughts.

1. Kids need to be engaged and working on exciting writing projects.

Part of the trick to getting the independent phase of Writing Workshop to go well is to work hard at getting kids involved in exciting writing projects. (Keep in mind that exciting doesn’t mean always easy or always fun). I’ve been thinking a lot about Donna Amato, a fantastic first grade teacher from Guilderland, New York. Sadly, I learned that she recently passed away. The world has not only lost an amazing person, but also an unbelievably intuitive, brilliant teacher. All I had to do was walk into her classroom or talk to her to be reminded that if kids are excited about what they’re doing, they will work hard even when the teacher is not working with them. In my book, Don’t Forget to Share, I wrote about how towards the end of Donna’s Writing Workshop she would say the following to her six year olds,

“We’re about to gather for a share. You all have an important decision to make and I want you to make the decision that is best for you. Some of you might feel it’s a better use of your time to keep writing. If that’s true, don’t come to the share. Some of you might feel as though a conversation with others might spark an idea. If that’s true, join us at the share meeting today.”

Nobody (really and truly not one single student) made a bad decision or fooled around while Donna was facilitating the share meeting with the other students. Rather, the kids who continued working were deeply engaged in what they were doing. Donna didn’t have a special class or perfect kids. She was a special teacher who worked hard at getting her kids engaged in their writing. How did she do that? That’s for another blog post.

2. Kids need to be able to make decisions on their own and understand that the decisions they make on any given day will be different than other students.

During the independent phase of Writing Workshop, I want the kids to understand how to make a decision that is going to keep them self-sustained and doing work that is appropriate for them. This is not an easy task, but it is certainly ‘do-able.’ Just yesterday, for example, I was in King Street Primary School in Danbury, CT and the students were working on editing and revising their Small Moments. The teacher, Lorena, had given the kids an editing checklist and the kids were using the checklist to help themselves edit their pieces. One student had checked her piece and she discovered that everything on the checklist was correct. My hope for her is that she can, without teacher intervention, understand that just because the checklist didn’t give her editing ideas, did not mean that her work was complete for the day. I want her to understand that she should continue rereading her piece and do what adult writers do towards the end of the process: make small changes that will either lift the content of the writing or improve the mechanics of the writing.

As I looked around the room, there were other students who were easily able to do parts of the checklist, but were having a more difficult time with other parts of it. I don’t want these kids to spend their Writing Workshop with their hand raised waiting for the teacher to help them. I want them to understand that they should use the editing checklist in the best way that they can. After they have done this to the best of their ability, they should simply start a new piece. As you can see from these two examples, I wouldn’t want all kids to make the same decisions because their needs are clearly different.

3. On any day, kids need to go beyond what was taught in the minilesson or the conference.

During our minilessons or conferences we are usually teaching kids a particular quality of writing that we hope they will try out (that day or over the next few days). Teachers will often say that kids are fine at the start of Writing Workshop but once they finish what the teacher taught they are unsure what to do next. Some kids are very obvious about the fact that they are finished and will yell out, “I’m finished!” or follow you around the room. Others hide it better. They might sit quietly, doodle, and color in their pictures as a way to keep busy when they have finished the work of the day. I want and expect more from kids during the independent phase of Writing Workshop. I want kids to understand that it is their job to keep themselves doing good work the entire time. I want them to understand that what was taught that day is only a small portion of what they could potentially be doing during that time. What else could they be doing? Again, the answer to that is for future blog posts!

Now that I have presented some of my rough draft thinking around this topic, I reach out to you, my lovely readers, with these questions.

1. Is the word for all of these ideas above independence or is it something bigger? The word ‘self sustained’ keeps coming to my mind but I would love to hear your thoughts or what words come to your mind that best defines the ideas above.

2. Are there other ideas you would add other than the three I have above? What are your hopes and dreams for how kids will use the independent phase of Writing Workshop?

I hope to hear from you!
Leah

Copyright, 2011

18 Responses to Some Rough Draft Thinking about the Independent Phase of Writing Workshop
  1. Jen
    December 1, 2011 | 11:17 pm

    Great post Leah! I think the word that I like to describe what you are talking about is self-directed. My Apple dictionary tells me that it means “under one’s control” or ” showing initiative and the ability to organize oneself”. I love the idea that a child has the opportunity to control their own learning. Whether preschool students choosing a center to play, or an 8th grader selecting their own topic of research and the format they will present it, or a writer making decisions about their writing piece, this is the most powerful learning for students. Differentiation has been around for ages, but to truly achieve it you need students who are self-directed. By being independent or self-directed, students actually differentiate their own learning. I guess it is a bit ironic that for our students to become self-directed they need the guidance of a strong teacher.

    • Patty
      December 2, 2011 | 5:13 am

      What about the word “engaged”? I like this word because it means that the students are interested, involved and creating their “own” independence by being engaged–just like artists, composers and any other creative person.

      • Leah Mermelstein
        December 2, 2011 | 12:42 pm

        Hi Patty,
        Yes, I think the word engaged is part of what I’m trying to say. Really, it’s what happens when kids are self directed. If someone else is making your decisions for you and you are waiting on then constantly for you next steps, you often become more passive, BUT if you are making your own decisions, planning your time, and publishing often (being self directed) than you are more likely to be engaged. Thanks for your thoughts–it’s helping me get clearer. 🙂

  2. Leah Mermelstein
    December 1, 2011 | 11:23 pm

    HI Jen,
    It’s great to hear from you. I love the word self-directed and I do think that word is more accurate than independent especially when it comes to Writing Workshop. I agree, a teacher must must not only be really skilled but also incredibly structured in what she says and how she organizes time in order to get self-directed learners. Thanks for posting your thoughtful reply and I hope to see you in the future.

  3. Marjorie
    December 2, 2011 | 2:19 am

    I can’t help but think about all the children who learned about making decisions and solving problems under Donna Amato’s guidance. I think she has left a legacy to strive towards for all teachers. I look forward to hearing more about this amazing teacher and to carry forth what she started.

  4. Leah Mermelstein
    December 2, 2011 | 2:26 am

    Such a lovely thought, Marjorie! You’re right. Donna Amato has touched the lives of so many students and helped them to become confident and self directed learners and thinkers.

  5. Sheila Meade
    December 2, 2011 | 12:08 pm

    I’m just thinking about how much I agree with everyone here. It’s so much more than just being independent. It’s about thinking and understanding that as learners it’s our role to make decisions and figure out what we need. That message begins to emerge as we put these structures into our rooms that support and encourage independence and purposeful thinking!! The idea of a student thinking to him/herself, “hmmm.. How much paper might I need for my story?” is the beginning step in developing that sense of agency… We must develop thinkers, not just followers. Yes, there’s a bit more noise and movement but it’s most definitely worthwhile, necessary work.
    Thanks Leah for a great blog!! It always gets me thinking!

    • Leah Mermelstein
      December 2, 2011 | 12:48 pm

      Hi Sheila,
      It’s always great to hear from you and I’m more convinced now than I was before that independence is not the right word!!! We can teach kids to do things by themselves but you’re right, that’s different from teaching kids to think and make decisions about how to use their ‘independent time’ in way that propels them forward. It reminds me a lot of my job. Because I’m not in schools every day there is an ‘independent phase’ to my job. I know the end result (get my schools prepared) but I have to make decisions about the best way to do it. It’s not just about me working by myself. Like you said, I have to constantly make decisions about what to do each day so that my days in schools are successful. Thanks for your response–it got me thinking as well. 🙂 I hope that your year is going well and that I see you soon.

  6. Penny
    December 2, 2011 | 1:11 pm

    Hi Leah,
    Donna Amato was my best friend in the world and the most fabulous teacher I ever knew. Her intuition, thoughtfulness and natural sense of what children needed were unparalleled. I have a huge hole in my heart now that she is gone, and our school has lost someone who can never be replaced. She will live on in all of the children who were lucky enough to learn from her. As the very humble person she was, she would have been embarrassed by your tribute, but I am so happy that you have honored her in this way. Thank you.

    • Leah Mermelstein
      December 2, 2011 | 1:25 pm

      HI Penny,
      I’m so sorry for your loss. She has been on my mind since I heard the sad news. I can’t even imagine how you feel–I agree with you–she was a magical teacher who intuitively ‘got it’. I was thinking this week how when I was writing my share book, I had to go revise after visiting her classroom. I had written about a particular method of shares and had stated that in the draft of my book that it was better suited for upper grade. The problem was that when I walked into Donna’s classroom she was getting her first graders to do the very thing that I had said was more suited for older kids, Of course, she was doing in a completely magical, appropriate and engaging way. I had to go home the next day and revise that chapter based upon what Donna taught me. I know there is nothing that can take away the hole in your heart but I hope that you take comfort in the fact that you are right; she will live on not only in the children who had her, but the educators (me for example) who were lucky enough to work with her.
      All my best,
      Leah

  7. Anmarie Galgano
    December 3, 2011 | 1:49 am

    Great post Leah! Yesterday our district writing coordinator came to my K class as she is trying to define writing assessment in the primary grades for the board of education. She asked to observe my conferences and when she was done she noted that it seemed as if each child understood the purpose of what they were doing in their books (we happen to be studying and writing label and pattern books right now). I think that’s what I am striving for…students knowing that their writing has a place in our class and the world and then writing it with purpose. Making that a focus of my teaching has greatly increased the independence factor in my classroom. Take care!

  8. Leah Mermelstein
    December 3, 2011 | 12:24 pm

    Hi Anmarie,
    Soooo true! I think that if we want kids to be self directed, then they must understand the purpose of what they are writing and where it belongs in the world, just as you said. How do you think you get your K kids to understand this? I’m wondering if it’s through consistent celebrations/publishing or are there other things that you do as well to help them understand this?

  9. Vicki Vinton
    December 3, 2011 | 12:25 pm

    I love that you’re sharing your work-in-progress thinking! And I love the invitation to join in! The post reminded me of a 4th grade CTT classroom I was in last month where 80% of the students voluntarily gave up recess to continue working on their historical fiction journals. When I think of what contributed to that, I reach for Peter Johnston’s words. These were students who had an identity as writers and, with that, a sense of agency and purpose. They believed in what they were doing and believed that they could do it, all of which is too big to fit into the one word, independence. Of course, I believe the teachers in that room created the environment that supported that. They empowered their students and the students felt empowered, which seems like a critical ingredient.

    • Leah Mermelstein
      December 3, 2011 | 12:42 pm

      Hi Vicki,
      It’s great to hear your thoughts. I agree, It is about students believing in what they are doing and believing that they can do it!!! I worry with the word independence that it conjures up simpler tasks such as being able to put materials away on your own. I absolutely think it’s the teacher who creates this. I I think I’m trying to figure what the word be (right now I’m loving Jen’s idea: self directed) and then on top of that what the a teacher needs to do in her classroom to achieve it.

  10. Andrea
    December 3, 2011 | 12:30 pm

    First, thank you for this post. Love the dedication to Donna, the search for a definition of what we actually mean/want when we wish for student independence, the unusual scenario of having children make the decision of what is best for them, perhaps different than what their friends are doing, that this decision might be to do difficult work.
    Love your questions to your readers at the end.

    Which leads me to the conclusion that when we are invested in something, we are not independent. We see the big picture, the purpose, the power in creation. We are motored by this vision. This energy sends us to each other, to books, to the world, deeper into ourselves. When one is empowered by, rather than afraid of risk and challenge, one can work endlessly.

    Dedicating this to Donna proves our interdependence on the important things.

    • Leah Mermelstein
      December 3, 2011 | 12:52 pm

      Thanks so much for your wise words. It’s got me thinking about the ‘how’s’ in getting kids to be more self-directed. To really figure this out, I need to define it and then figure out what teachers need to do in order to achieve it in their classroom. One way I find that teachers achieve it is to begin units of study with a strong immersion. Immersion, I believe, helps kids see the big picture of what they are doing as well as giving them the energy and excitement to write. I love how you spoke about being empowered, rather than afraid of risk and challenge. That is huge–I’m really thinking now about what teachers can do in their classrooms to help kids see the ‘hard parts of writing’ as a challenge rather than scary…hmmm good food for thought. I look forward to seeing you soon!

  11. Pat Favitta
    December 4, 2011 | 12:13 pm

    Hi Leah,
    Thank you so much for sharing just a little of how smart and amazing a teacher Donna Amato was. I was lucky enough to work with and learn from Donna as one of her grade level partners at Guilderland Elementary for many years. Every conversation that we ever had left me thinking, “Now, why didn’t I think of it or say it that way?” There are not words enough to describe the type of teacher, person and friend that Donna was. I will forever be grateful to have had her in my life as a colleague and as a friend and I will remember her wise words every day and in every facet of my life. Thank you for honoring Donna in this way. She would have been so very pleased to read your words.

  12. Leah Mermelstein
    December 4, 2011 | 2:12 pm

    HI Pat–
    And she would have been pleased to hear your words….
    I’m so sorry for your loss.
    All my best,
    Leah

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