When Writers Drive the Workshop: Honoring Young Voices and Bold Choices

When Writers Drive the Workshop: Honoring Young Voices and Bold Choices

by Brian Kissel

Paperback(New Edition)



In this practical, engaging book, former elementary school teacher and university professor Brian Kissel asks teachers to go back to the roots of writing workshop. What happens when students, not planned teaching points, lead writing conferences? What happens when students, not tests, determine what they learned through reflection and self-evaluation?
Writing instruction has shifted in recent years to more accountability, taking the focus away from the writer. This book explores what happens when empowered writers direct the writing workshop. Through stories from real classrooms, Brian reveals that no matter where children come from, they all have the powerful, shared need to be heard. And when children choose their writing topics, their lives unfold onto the page and teachers are educated by the young voices and bold choices of these writers.
Written in an engaging, teacher-to-teacher style, this book focuses on four key components of writing workshop, with an eye on what happens when teachers step back and allow students to drive the instruction:
  • Conferring sessions where students lead and teachers listen
  • Author’s Chair where students set the agenda and ask for feedback
  • Reflection time and structures for students to set goals and expectations for themselves
  • Mini-lessons that allow for detours based on students’ needs, not teacher or curricular goals
Each of the chapters includes practical ideas, a section of Guiding Beliefs, a list of Frequently Asked Questions, and some Digital Diversions to help teachers see the digital possibilities in their classrooms.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781625310736
Publisher: Stenhouse Publishers
Publication date: 02/23/2017
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 186
Product dimensions: 7.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 5 - 10 Years

About the Author

Brian Kissel, an educator for over 20 years, is a professor of Literacy and Elementary Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. A former elementary school teacher and literacy coach, Brian teaches courses in writing instruction, digital literacy, and literacy development and instruction. He also conducts research in the areas of writing development and instruction. 

Brian began his career as a 2nd grade teacher in Jacksonville, Florida. He taught various grade levels at the elementary school level. Eventually, he began working as a literacy coach—first in an elementary school and later as a traveling literacy coach in various pre-kindergarten classrooms. 

Brian went to the University of Virginia to pursue a doctorate degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis on literacy. He studied under Jane Hansen, who, along with colleague Donald Graves, was an influential voice in literacy learning. Jane gave Brian important advice as a graduate student when she said, “As a professor, it’s important that you never leave real classrooms.”  So, upon graduation from UVA, Brian accepted a job as a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he spends 1-2 days a week teaching in various K-5 classrooms.

As a researcher, Brian is the author of several book chapters and journal articles in journals such as The Reading TeacherYoung ChildrenChildhood Education, and Journal of Research in Childhood Education. He is the author of three books: The Literacy Coach's CompanionPerspectives and Provocations in Early Childhood, and What's New in Literacy Teaching.

This is Brian’s fourth book and it represents his most personal professional book to date. Weaving together stories from his own classroom experiences with stories he gathered by teaching in others’ classrooms, Brian writes about the Writer’s Workshop from the perspective of writers. Noticing a trend in many classrooms where writing has become more teacher-, standard-, and assessment-driven experience, Brian examined classrooms in which writing instruction was more writer-driven. He explored what happens when writers lead the mini-lessons, guide the conferences, drive the Author’s Chair, and self-reflect on their learning. In classrooms where authors have authority, he noticed that writers flourish. In this book When Writers Drive the Workshop: Honoring the Young Voices and Bold Choices, Brian writes about the powerful ways teachers empowered their students to make important decisions for themselves as writers. And he uses their stories to show other K-5 teachers how they might envision writing instruction differently in their own classrooms.

Brian lives in Davidson, North Carolina with his wife, Hattie, twin sons Ben and Charlie, and daughter Harriet. 

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Foreword 1

Introduction 5

Chapter 1 Conferring: Writers Take the Wheel 11

Conferring in the Midst of Creation

Conferring as a Conversational Act

Questions, Questions, Questions

Document, Document, Document


Chapter 2 The Author's Chair: Writers Navigate the Response 35

Writers Lead the Response Agenda

Writers Guide the Teacher's Choices


Chapter 3 Reflection: Writers Ponder the Journey 57

Reflection as Part of the Assessment Landscape

Reflection as the Counter narrative to Standardized Testing

Reflecting Daily, Monthly, and Yearly


Chapter 4 Mini-Lessons: Writers Determine the Detours 79

Planning with Students in Mind

Negotiations in the Planning Process

A Planning Process Responsive to Student Needs


Chapter 5 Conditions: Teachers Create Smooth Writing Experiences 113






Room Structure



Epilogue 143

Appendix 147

References 175

Index 179

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