Learning and writing with struggling students – English Companion

Time and Space

Once, four years ago, I taught in a self-contained eighth grade classroom for which the flexible schedule allowed for in depth work in all subjects, often as integrated projects. Time for composing on paper or computer occurred in rotating blocks of time to produce thoughtfully crafted works in many genres as needed to enhance, research, or synthesize project ideas and solutions. The classroom was a workshop, a studio of learning.

This format also provided time for flexible grouping for differing student needs. Writing focused learning through which learning writing emerged to produce clear expressions of learning. Time and space allowed students the opportunity to focus, discuss, compose, revise, share, and publish thoughtful pieces of prose and poetry.

Now, I teach fifth through eighth graders in fifty minute blocks of writing time in which the bell interrupts the connections of concepts and the considerations of composition. The flow of ideas written and discussed frequently dissolve into bits of dribble, with little time for individual insights and instruction. Time and space, splintered rather than connected, keeps us from discovering the deeper dimensions of deliberate writing that had occurred in years prior to this schedule.

And as Nancy Devine so aptly reminds us:  an entire period of writing for students is important; extended time and space is not only sometimes needed –rather, it is frequently needed, and not just for writing.

I’m hoping our education reform will free schedules for the kind of focus students need to energize and engage their interests so learning is coherent and connected, a life-long process. Technology in the form of Web 2.0 now should allow us to establish a schedule that better supports a more personalized teaching and learning environment, as a studio/workshop approach provides.

How do you think a thoughtful, time-friendly class environment (not necessarily classroom) would look?

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