Workshops Work! by Patricia Zaballos is an important new contribution to the literature of writing instruction. This book (and e-book) provides guidance for those offering writing workshop experiences for young writers in non-school settings such as tutors, home schoolers, or parents seeking to create authentic, valuable writing situations for their kids.
Those of us who work in schools, however, can still greatly benefit from reading Workshops Work! precisely because it goes directly to the young writers and their writing without needing to address aspects of instruction that are more school-based. For example, Zaballos offers valuable advice about feedback, but it’s not about grades. Her workshops have no artificial accountability measures other than whether or not the participants and their parents find them of value. These writing experiences are not rolled into other content frequently addressed in English classes—vocabulary, public speaking, literary analysis—although Zaballos alludes to these kinds of instruction as natural by-products of effective writing workshops. School-based instruction has more accountability “overhead” than ever, and it’s refreshing to read about and consider more unencumbered educational experiences.
Workshops Work! is particularly useful because of its comprehensive treatment of how writing happens across a wide range of ages. Schools divide kids by grade levels, which are frequently based on ages, but independent workshops can include children grouped more heterogeneously who then learn from other writers at slightly different stages of development. Zaballos still groups older writers with older writers and younger writers with younger writers but not rigidly. Each of those groups has specific needs and abilities, and Zaballos offers wise advice about how to conduct effect workshops with both older and younger age groups.
One of the most enlightening aspects of Zaballos’s work is her explanation of how developmental stages of young writers influence their willingness to revise: “Younger kids write, are happy with their writing, and they’re finished. Most don’t want to linger with something they’ve already written. Over time, though, I began to see that even if kids didn’t revise the work at hand, they often applied workshop feedback to later writing.” Zaballos goes on to tell how older writers seemed to “[reach] a new developmental stage where lingering with their work and shaping it became fulfilling.” Those of us who work with students within narrower age ranges frequently possess little understanding of what our students experienced before they came to us or what happens to them after they leave our age-based environment. This larger perspective can help us understand our students’ current developmental stages and more effectively influence the way we approach their writing experiences.
I read Workshops Work! in e-book form, and that edition capitalizes on the electronic format by providing convenient links to other sections of the book but not to the point where those links are distracting. The book’s design and end matter are appealing and user-friendly. Workshops Work! left me with no questions about how to structure and approach an independent writing workshop.
Workshops Work! is perhaps most valuable because of how it reminds us of the important human qualities teachers need as we do the important work of developing young writers: patience, enthusiasm, and empathy. Every page of Workshops Work! resonates with Patricia Zaballos’s expertise drawn from her deep well of experience. With the publication of this book, writing teachers everywhere can now benefit from that experience.
Workshops Work! is now widely available in both print and e-book form. Check Patricia’s web site for purchase options.
Patricia is also offering three of this blog’s readers the eBook/PDF version of her book. Recipients will receive three free files: a .mobi file and an .epub file for reading the book on Kindle, Nook and other e-readers, as well as iPads and other devices, and a PDF file for reading the book on computer and for printing. Please let me know if you would like to be one of the lucky three to receive this package. (Note: This give-away is now complete. Thanks.)
As always, thanks for reading and for your comments.