Writer’s Workshop at ASPS

The following principal blog entry was posted by Year 4 teacher, Mr Ben Zonca.


Take a moment to think about when you write (consider any and all writing), and more importantly, why you write. I imagine the ‘why’ varies considerably, from necessity to leisure, and the ‘when’, a spontaneous event for some, and a key part of the day for others. But the purpose of our writing is consistent; we write to inform, we write to persuade and we write to entertain – it’s the purpose that drives every piece of writing that we do. Fortunately, for the majority of us, the purpose and message of our writing is our own, and we’re motivated to do it because we choose to do it, not because it has been assigned to us.

Writer’s Workshop at ASPS seeks to draw from the real-world application of writing to drive classroom practice, and its purpose is defined by student choice. But it’s the small changes made to Writer’s Workshop at ASPS to align to the Primary Years Program’s philosophies that teases out the workshops inherent strengths.

‘Writer’s Workshop’ as terminology and approach has existed for some time, developing out of Donald Graves’ writing process, coined in 1983, in his still widely referenced book ‘Writing’, and has taken on countless forms over the years. Graves’ writing process (Plan, Draft, Revise, Edit, Publish) plays a significant role in Writer’s Workshop, but sees one notable inclusion that largely defines the approach: Seed.

The seed functions as it would suggest metaphorically; students plant, nurture and eventually harvest the seed as a possible writing topic. It sounds fluffy, but the power of student agency in the selection of a seed cannot be understated, and student selection of topic and text-type sees motivation skyrocket. A problem arises quickly though, and is typical of Writer’s Workshop variances the world over – students will write and write and write, but the writing is typically void of significant purpose or message.

The solution? Writing as thinking.

ASPS’s Writer’s Workshop commits to the PYP’s philosophy of education that is relevant, challenging, engaging and significant, employing rigorous tools for understanding in the seed stage to tease out writing topics that reflect significant messages and issues. The tools themselves come out of significant research from the likes of DeBono (Thinking Hats, Plus-Minus-Interest, Cause and Effect), Harvard Education (See-Think-Wonder, Think-Puzzle-Explore, Circle of Viewpoints), and many others (3 Levels of Thinking). Not all tools fit all seeds, with some being more appropriate for non-fiction, and others for fiction, and teachers develop students’ repertoire so they can use them where appropriate. Think of them as garden tools for the harvest.

The topics themselves, though rarely teacher directed, often reflect the class’s current or past unit of inquiry. For students, these topics act as a personal in-road to understanding of the central idea, and the examples provided show a range of topics born out of a Grade 4 ‘How we organise ourselves’ unit, exploring a range of social and environmental sustainability issues.

Student ownership doesn’t end there either, and the ultimate goal is to develop students that have a handle on, not only the traditional text types, but also on text types you may have thought about earlier (blogs, emails, visual texts, etc,) by the time they leave for secondary school. The framework teachers put in place for the acquisition of text specific knowledge and conventions is extensive, and reserved for part 2 of these articles. For now, the examples below represent a cross-section of seed nurturing and harvesting as done by students at ASPS.