why a virtual writer’s workshop might be just what your kids need right now

April 8, 2020

You know I’m worked up about this idea because I made a video for you–the first one ever in almost twelve years here on the Wonder Farm.

Noted: I make a lot of ridiculous expressions when I talk. Also, the resolution of this video is too small. I’ll try to fix it before the next one. And anyway, no one needs a close-up of my face.

Watch to laugh at me; maybe watch to be convinced! This video lays out why you might want to consider a virtual workshop for your kid. In the next few days I’ll put up another with specific how-tos. I’m going to make this very easy for you! No planning or research needed–just find a few kids and a conference platform and you’ll be ready to go.

I hope you’ll seriously consider this. In the meanwhile, hang in there, dear friends. xo.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy D April 8, 2020 at 7:29 pm

Thank you for this! I have loved this idea for so long. I’ve read posts here about it and have appreciated your book. We are homeschoolers by choice, but I know my kiddo would love to connect with friends this way in these times. But, my kiddo has little filter. He tells it as he sees it. We’ve talked many times about how one might approach things thoughtfully and with care. I worry he’ll dampen spirits. Thoughts or tips on this? I could be over-thinking it. Thank you againg for this!

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patricia April 8, 2020 at 9:14 pm

Thank you for your devoted reading here, Cathy! It’s really important in the very first workshop, when kids first start offering feedback, that you make it clear that they will only be telling what they like or admire in the piece. That rule is non-negotiable. Sometimes kids have to be gently reminded if their feedback heads in a negative direction, but once they get the hang of giving feedback, they get it. The kids will often “police” each other if someone says something negative, because they know it isn’t okay. If it becomes an issue, you can have a discussion with the kids about why it’s important that feedback be positive. Ask them how they would feel if someone said something negative about their work.

It can be a little tricky, I admit, if you’re the one facilitating, as sometimes your own kids feel a little more free to “bend” the rules. But if your son enjoys the workshop, he’ll want to continue, and I think he’ll learn to filter himself.

Once kids have been working together for a while, and gaining trust in each other, you can have them move into other forms of feedback. But even then, I think the writer needs to control what kind of feedback they want. You probably remember this post on that topic: http://patriciazaballos.com/2019/02/11/offering-the-feedback-a-writer-really-needs/

I’ll have another post next week, with simple instructions for facilitating a virtual workshop. I really hope you do it, Cathy!

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Jennifer April 8, 2020 at 10:06 pm

This is just what we’ve been doing! It’s been easier to set up because the kids I’m working with have been doing writers’ workshop together for a couple of years now. It was my friend’s suggestion that I keep it going over an internet platform. Our first one via zoom lasted two hours because they were all so keen to get back into it!

It works really well because it’s structured. Chatting via zoom/skype/etc can be tricky for kids because they’re naturally so active. WW gives each of the kids a chance to be facilitator, to be in charge of the call, and everybody gets a turn to speak giving feedback.

I was thinking that if I were trying to start a group from scratch (am thinking about offering it to some of the other kids I know), I would print out the feedback prompts in large font and show them to the kids one at a time; and possibly screen share with a view of all the prompts when it came time to give feedback. That way they would know how to give constructive feedback! (When I ran it out of my house, I printed the prompts and stuck them up on the wall.)

Do you know, I’m so grateful for the whole writers’ workshop thing. My daughter loves it, the rest of the kids love it, and it’s such a joy to hear their writing improve as they grow and practice. (And I just looked and although I bought the book in 2016 and have been doing them ever since, I’ve never left you a review! I will try to do that today!)

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patricia April 9, 2020 at 11:32 am

Jennifer! Thank you so much for sharing your experience! While I’ve done virtual workshops with other adult writers for years, I’ve never actually done one with kids, so I appreciate any suggestions you can offer.

I’m glad to hear your thoughts on sharing feedback prompts. I’m planning to simplify the workshop process for parents, so they don’t feel overwhelmed with all the info in my book, and can get a workshop off the ground quickly. I wasn’t planning on mentioning prompts, but you’re helping me remember how helpful they can be for kids, especially when they’re starting out. I love the idea of posting them as a screen share, if parents are up for that. I’m going to think about it.

Do you have any tips for helping them take turns talking? In my stripped-down blueprint for a workshop I am planning to suggest that the writer take charge of the feedback session and call on speakers, as I think that’s so important–as you’ve noticed! Do you use the hand-raising feature in Zoom? Or do the kids just raise their hands so the writer sees it them the video?

Also, do you have any tips for wiggly kids? Does extra noise create problems? It might be worth having kids mute themselves until they’re called on to give feedback, but I don’t know if that would require too much of a learning curve. I was also thinking of suggesting that larger groups take a brief mid-call break, or at least a “wiggle break” where everyone gets up and moves. I think your daughter is about ten? How old are the kids you’re working with, and how many are in your group?

Ha! You probably didn’t expect to leave a comment, only to be assaulted with questions! But the fact that you’ve done in-person and virtual workshops is such valuable experience. I’ll take any other suggestions or experiences you have to offer!

I’m so happy to hear that your group is still going strong–even in these trying times. Some of the most rewarding emails and comments I get are from parents who have given workshops a try. Their experiences are, unfailingly, glowing. Little thrills me more. <3

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Jennifer Boere April 9, 2020 at 12:20 pm

Hi Patricia! I don’t feel like much of an expert — I’ve only done two virtual workshops so far, and the second one was today!

What we’ve done in terms of noise (and some of them have toddler siblings around) is to mute everybody except the person currently reading their writing. Then we unmute everybody for the feedback. (First it was the host managing that, but the kids are so tech-savvy that they can sort themselves out now!) I have had to clamp down hard on the chat feature — one of the girls was distracting herself and everybody else with typed messages!

For feedback, we just raise our hands so that the writer sees them in the video. I don’t know if it would be better for a new group (especially teens) to use the hand-raising feature. I didn’t even know that there is a hand-raising feature! But my group is so used to physically raising hands that I don’t think it’s occurred to any of them to do it differently. And I think for younger kids, the physical hand-raising is simple and familiar.

The kids I’m working with are 7 to 13. (The 7 year old is a new member who has joined her big sister since we moved to virtual workshops, but she knows all the kids in the group already. Otherwise the youngest is 9.) I have no idea how you remembered that my daughter is 10! We’ve got 9 kids now.

We used to meet fortnightly (in person) and everybody read every time; now we’re doing it weekly and half the kids read each time. There hasn’t been much of a problem with wiggliness, but I haven’t fussed much about younger children moving out of camera range — they’re still listening and they come back to give their feedback!

It’s been really lovely, actually, continuing the workshops. I love the kids and I love their writing and they really love getting to see their friends (and getting their feedback!) — so it’s wins all around.

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patricia April 9, 2020 at 5:25 pm

This is so helpful, Jennifer. Thank you! You are two virtual workshops more of an expert than I am, so I appreciate it.

The notion of muting everyone but the reader until feedback time is super helpful. I’ll add that to my post. And I’m glad to know that straightforward raising of hands still works.

I love that you have a range of 7-13 year-olds in your group! I’ve found that mixed ages can work really well. Different-aged kids bring different qualities to the workshop. (And as far as remembering that your daughter is 10–I admit that I can search for past reader comments on the backend of my blog. I like to do that when I respond to people, so I’m remembering the details of devoted commenters like you. šŸ™‚ )

It’s also good to know that you’re meeting weekly in this new format. That’s exactly the suggestion I made in my post draft. It’s easier to gather virtually, and I think kids will benefit from more regular gatherings right now.

I love that you are so happy to be reconvening with your group. That’s just what I always felt, and it’s what other workshop facilitators have conveyed to me: you become quite attached to the kids in your group! There is something beautiful about being allowed into their creative minds, and it forges a bond that most adults don’t anticipate going in. Wins all around, indeed.

I appreciate the feedback so much–it’s been a big help as I write my post. If you think of anything else, please let me know! xo!

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