Writing workshops are a time to share your writing and to learn from other forms of writing, be it student or professional. Writing workshop requires some intellectual risk and the courage to show your work to others. It familiarizes you with some of the first steps of the revision and editing process. Writing workshops are no replacement for working out first drafts, studying technique, or revising but they do serve a large part in creating writing communities.
There are many ways to hold writing workshops as a teacher, and there are many methods to have a student analyze their writing. In class this week we had “fishbowl” writing conferences. This is a practice style of conference where the teacher and student will meet in the middle of the room to go over the student writing; meanwhile, all the other educational students in training watch the conference to see what the teacher does to get the best out of the student.
In a fishbowl conference the teacher wants to ask the student questions. These questions are directed towards getting the student to talk in an open ended manner about their writing. The teacher will obviously give suggestions, but the suggestions are never conducive to what the teacher wants to see. The questions are about getting the student to actively engage and to read their piece closely in order to highlight where their writing is strong and weak. Questions that facilitate discussion with the student can be numerous.
- What do you think is working in your piece?
- Have you ever written anything like this before? When?
- Is there anything in particular that you want me to help you through?
- Where did you have trouble in your piece, why?
- What audience are you writing this to?
- Is this a piece that you feel attached to, why?
- This is a great section of your story, what did you do here to create this?
- Do you like this character?
- What do you think a good story does? Where does your piece try to do that?
- How can you develop this further? Where?
- This is a wonderful scene, what did you do with language here?
- How did your journal help you for this writing assignment?
- How did you organize your journal to create this piece?
There are many questions you can ask your students, but it is best to try to keep them open ended. Meaning, try not to pose questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.” Another thing a teacher needs to do in front of the student is engage with the text. Read bits of the student’s work back to them and encourage them. This encouragement and and discussion should come before critiques and suggestions are given. A student will better receive some light criticism if you can truly tell them where there piece is working first.
I read some books this week too. I read “Walden on Wheels” by Ken Ilgunas and “The Pride of Baghdad” by Brian K. Vaughn (with art by Niko Henrichon). The books were vastly dissimilar, as “The Pride of Baghdad” (graphic novel) is a social commentary on the crisis in the Middle East and “Walden on Wheels” is about escaping student debt and living a life of solitude and the search for enlightenment. Ken Ilgunas was actually one of our featured authors at the StoryCatcher Writing Workshop this past summer at Fort Robinson. I hadn’t read his books before the workshop but now wish I had so I could’ve asked him some pertinent questions. If you ever are scheduled for a writing workshop with published authors, try to read some of their works in advance. It is just another context you can give yourself to become a better writer. The book by Ilgunas is quite moving, as it takes you on a journey from New York to Alaska to Ontario to New York to Mississippi to Alaska to New York to Duke. All these places serve as stops in the journey of Ken’s life to find something like peace and understanding. “The Pride of Baghdad” may have tried to pack too many social issues into one book, but it gives a valiant try. In this short graphic novel there is commentary on tribalism, domestic living, Islam extremism, Western Imperialism, gender equality, gang violence, climate change, and the overall crisis in Iraq. If you want a book that tries to cover every angle this book is for you.