What do teachers really want from professional learning on writing?

 Preparing students to be 21st century learners has increased the focus on writing, not decreased it as some pundits have suggested. The internet with email, twitter and blogs as well as text messaging seeps into every corner of our day so it is with increased importance that we educate children to synthesise, organise, reflect on and respond to their world. Teachers recognise they are struggling to identify how to effectively grow the writers in their classroom.

 Lucy Caulkins in  A Guide to the Writing Workshop Grades 3-5  says that “Children deserve to be explicitly taught the skills and strategies of effective writing, and the qualities of good writing.” She then goes on to highlight that just as importantly as this, we deserve to receive education in the teaching of writing. “If we can provide our students with clear, sequenced, vibrant instruction (along with opportunities to write daily for their own important purposes) we make a dramatic difference in children’s ability to write.”

Discussions with teachers in our region confirmed the direction the data was saying we needed to take with the Professional Learning we offer for the 2012 year.  To maximise relevance we surveyed teachers from rural communities to find out what they hoped to get out of an online learning module focusing on writing. Interestingly the number one priority for them was that they wanted to feel part of a Community of Learners – to feel “I am not alone.” This demonstrates how important learning networks are to teachers. We were hearing loud and clear they didn’t mind the journey, they just don’t want to do it on their own.  

Building understanding around a well-structured writing block topped the list of requests. This included aspects such as the writing process, conferencing, organisation and vocabulary. Teachers wanted to know more about the conditions for learning they needed to create to improve students writing.  We assume this is already well known but we need to remind ourselves that every time we come back to an instructional practice more research has been undertaken, we dig a bit deeper and our understanding around effective teaching and learning grows.

We identified ‘Writer’s Workshop’ as the framework for writing instruction and practice in the classroom  that would underlie our module. This framework would introduce participants to a range of ‘teacher tools’ and ‘writer tools’.  As the foundation for this we strongly believed it was important to revisit the research based best practice for writing instruction encapsulated by Donald Graves.  

The challenge for us is how to achieve all this and at the same time build a connected learning community, so that teachers are getting what they really want from  professional learning on teaching writing.