The writing workshop is the heart of the successful writing classroom. In these workshops, instructors use student papers (in part or in whole) as the basis of discussion and instruction. Most classrooms at Dartmouth are smart classrooms, where student work can be projected from Blackboard or via a document camera. If you're not in a smart classroom, you can share papers the old fashioned way (i.e., photocopy them).
Talking about student writing in class signals to your students that their writing is important. Treating student writing as one of the many course texts lets them know that they have, indeed, entered into the ongoing conversation of scholarship.
To run a successful writing workshop, you'll want to read the materials we've posted regarding Active Learning, Collaborative Learning, and Diagnosing and Responding to Student Writing. The first explains how and why engaging students in writing workshops facilitates learning; the second offers several methods for teaching students how to respond to their peers' writing; the third offers strategies for diagnosis and response that you can model in the writing workshops.
Conducting an engaging and constructive workshop draws on skills you already have as a discussion leader. However, if you've never critiqued student papers in class, you will discover that talking about student writing differs in some important ways from talking about the other readings in your class. First, the writer is in the room. Writing workshops must therefore be sensitively conducted. Second, the aim of the writing workshop is to enhance students' authority and responsibility as readers and writers. The instructor must therefore facilitate rather than direct the discussion. Third, the writing workshop emphasizes the complex role of the reader in a writer's process. Instructors will want to encourage readers to "out" their questions and concerns about a paper so that writers understand the myriad of responses their work has evoked. They will internalize this sense of audience and draw on it as they revise.
While every instructor will discover workshop methods that work for his or her particular classroom, we offer some proven strategies here.We also have some guidelinesfor peer review that you might find useful.
Given the sensitive nature of writing workshops, instructors often raise the question of whether or not the writer should remain anonymous during a peer critique. Some instructors feel that students are more comfortable when the author of the paper under scrutiny remains anonymous. But we've found several advantages to "outing" the writer, among them:
Frequency of Use. Instructors often ask how much class time they should devote to writing workshops. We have no rule about how often writing workshops should be held. Most instructors hold them the day a first draft is due, in order to facilitate the revision process. Some use them more frequently early in the term, when student writers are most in need of instruction, and then taper off as the term goes on.
Supporting Collaborative Learning. Some instructors who use Collaborative Learning methods (like peer editing groups) see the writing workshop as a way of modeling peer critique strategies for their students. Once students understand these strategies, they can work independently. Instructors who use Blackboard can monitor their students' critiques on the discussion board. Others hold conferences with the editing groups, in order to make sure that all students are giving thoughtful, constructive advice to their peers.
Efficient Use of Class Time. If you're concerned about the amount of time it takes to workshop papers in class, consider workshopping parts of papers. You can workshop students' questions, thesis sentences, introductions, body paragraphs, or conclusions. Working with smaller parts allows you to discuss the work of several different students, and to address several different kinds of writing problems
If you have ideas for running Writing Workshops that you'd like to share, contact Karen Gocsik, Executive Director, Writing and Rhetoric Program.
Last Updated: 12/4/12