Why I use workshop

I use workshop because providing students with choice, time, feedback, instruction, and structure creates a magic that entices even the most reluctant and spazziest 6th grader, as well as the coolest and laziest 12th grader, to write and risk and create.

The days when I know my writing workshop is thriving are the days when I get to class and the students don’t even notice my arrival.  Full disclosure: The first time this happened, I felt insulted.  Hey, I’m the teacher and this is MY class! Everything revolves around ME!  Nothing begins in here until I get class going!

And then, I took advantage of this “fly on the wall” opportunity and I listened and observed my writing workshop at work.  I watched my students get their writing areas set up, lining up pencils, finding a fresh, clean page in a writer’s notebook, and powering up computers.  There was a happy buzz of productivity as the students greeted each other and got situated.  They were happy and excited and motivated.  I realized that while my students still needed me, they didn’t need me to get them started or to tell them what to do that day – they knew what THEY wanted to do as writers.  Because of the work we did to establish our workshop at the beginning of the year, my students were serious about their writing work, and they wanted to get down to business.

It was writing nirvana.  And it was magic made possible by workshop.

–Sheila Kaehny, CWP Teacher Consultant

Why I Did CWP

Two weeks in July of 1992 changed my life as a teacher. I know that sounds a bit radical, but that’s the summer I learned about writers’ workshop – not just how to teach writers’ workshop, but how to be a writer in a writers’ workshop. Colorado Writing Project showed me the power of writing in a community, of writing for my own purposes, of writing with passion and power and joy. I never looked back after that summer. I believe unconditionally in the way writers’ workshops change people’s lives, whether they be five or fifteen or fifty. Join us for an unforgettable experience and transform your own classroom. It’s never too late and your students will thank you for it!

Shari VanderVelde, CWP Teacher Consultant

Graduate of Karen Hartman’s 1992 CWP and Stevi Quate’s 1995 CWPII

Why I Did CWP

I took CWP in 1986 with two other members of the Thornton High School English department. Our department was working hard to move to a portfolio system; it seemed to many of us that assessing by portfolios called for a different way of teaching. We began reading, talking, attending conferences, and some of us took CWP. Our department grew as teachers of writing; I felt so fortunate to be working in a department focused on teaching with best practices in mind, helping each other grow as writers and teachers. I quickly learned that choice, time to write, authentic audiences, good written response, timely focus lessons, conferences, workshop groups, and celebration engaged my students and motivated them to get better at their writing. I’ve been with CWP for 30 years and love to watch how teachers grow as writers and as teachers of writing in our two weeks together. We hope you will join us soon!

Karen Hartman

Director, CWP

Why I use workshop

My students are individual human beings with unique lives, struggles, interests, and talents. Giving them all the same book, the same writing prompt, and a strict formula to follow won’t engage them.

Always writing from a prompt won’t show them how to figure out what to think about the complexities of their lives.

My classroom should not be about what I think or about how I’ve figured something out or about what I’ve learned while living my life. I can share my thinking with my students in the effort to have them help me improve my ability to communicate my ideas, and to model for them the kind of work I intend for my classroom to invite them to do, but that work is not the primary focus of my classroom. I must create a space for students to think, to figure out, to create, to make sense of what they’re learning now and what they learned in the past and what they want to learn in the future.

I teach students.

Not books. Not writing.

Students should make decisions about the work they do, about the books they read, about the words they write. They should make decisions about the learning they need to do. They should be asked to determine for themselves what they have learned. They should have space to reflect, to plan, to revise. If I do all of this very important work for them, school is merely a place where they endure what people tell them to do all day, rather than a place where they go to figure out who they are and how they will contribute to our world.

Read the world to write your future.

Read books to make sense of our complex world, to practice dealing with complexity.

Write to figure out how you fit, how to make a future in our world.

This is why I use workshop.

–Sarah M. Zerwin, CWP Teacher Consultant