That being said, it's easy to forget about process in our teaching...and that's what workshop teaching is really all about! Teach the reader, not the book. The the writer, not the writing. It's not that I don't think product is important. Much of the way the world judges us is based on product. However, you'll never get to a good product, unless you work on your process! Athletes don't gain muscle and skill, scientists don't make breakthroughs, artists don't create masterpieces, unless they know what they're doing!
I'd like to talk about three important areas where we can't forget about process in a workshop world!
During my senior year in high school, Mr. Bodnar, who was about to retire after a long career, told us that he had a teacher who was about to retire after a long career, who once attended an audience with Robert Frost. This teacher asked Mr. Frost if in his poem, "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening," the snow was a symbol of life in an endless winter of universe. Mr. Frost took off his glasses and said that he was in a cabin, looked outside and saw snow, and wrote a poem.
During my junior year in college, my English professor, Dr. Gardineer, told us all about the official interpretation of a novel. Calling on enough courage, I raised my hand and asked, "How do we know that this is what the author really meant in this book?" She looked at me, smiling, and told me, "We don't, but this book isn't the author's anymore. It's ours, and we can interpret it however we want." How liberating!
Isn't that what Louise Rosenblatt taught us in 1938 in transactional theory? Readers bring their own experience to a book. That's why in my nine years in the classroom, reading aloud certain books every year, the class would have entirely different interpretations...because they were all different people.
When our students interpret a text differently than we might, it's so tempting to stop them and say they're wrong, but we can't...it will just make them stop thinking. Instead, ask, "What in the text makes you think that?" They might have an answer that blows you away. They also might not, in which case, you should teach into their process of thinking within the text, so they learn to interpret...these stories no longer belong to the authors, or us. They belong to this reader at this moment, and it's our chance to strengthen her for a lifetime of reading by teaching into her process!
Bear in mind that not all mistakes are created equal! Weigh the mistake against the writer. If you have a 2nd Grade writer who uses a semicolon wrong (something that is hard for anyone until about 5th Grade), you might have to let that one go. Depending on the situation, by correcting the mistake, you might not be teaching the concept. Instead, you might inadvertently teach them not to take the risk of using that skill at all!
Look for trends in the mistake, and teach toward the pattern. If your writer is ignoring commas in the middle of a compound sentence (look it up in case you don't remember!), find multiple instances of it in the writing and model how to fix it (if it's indeed age appropriate) with one or two sentences, and allow the student to go back and find it multiple times. The fact that it's a trend in the student's writing shows that this type of sentence is something he is gesturing toward (dangling preposition, sorry!), and therefore he is ready to learn it.
Finally, talk about how this type of sentence adds power to the writing! Why might you choose to have one long, luxurious sentence instead of a series of very short ones? Why might you ask a rhetorical question instead of stating an obvious fact? Talk about the craft associated with the sentence type, rather than just the black and white nature of the words and the marks around them.
Imagine you're a reading student. It's Tuesday, and the teacher has just taught you to use a Venn Diagram. It's Tuesday, so you must use a Venn Diagram, but in your book, there is nothing to compare, or nothing of significance to compare. In fact, you might have already been on the verge of a reading breakthrough, but now this adult is slowing you down, or even confusing you, by giving you another silly assignment!
I also like to think of writing about reading like conferring notes. The function of conferring notes is to help you keep these important conversations straight, so that you can make the best plans possible for each student in your class. Some of us like to write paragraph-type notes. Some of us like checklists. Some of us figure out other ways to organize that work for us! Imagine being told by your principal that you had to make your conferring notes on some seemingly obscure form that she liked, but you didn't really get. That's what we do to kids whenever we give mandatory writing about reading assignments.
How will we know that they actually read? is a question I get asked often on this topic. Writing about reading is not the way! Kids will learn how to fill pages and pages (which is very exhausting for a teacher to read anyway...) without actually reading the text, or reading it and misunderstanding it. Soon these kids will just read so that they have something to write. Here, we've taught them the lesson that they read so they can write something to please us, when it's really about teaching them many ways to write, so they can choose the best way to help them grow better and better ideas inside their books!
So how do you teach this process? Besides modeling lots of ways to write about reading in your read aloud and minilesson, ask a student in a conference, "How might you use writing to help you grow this idea?" See what the student says. It might amaze you! Just like anything in our teaching, teach them many ways, and provide the choice that makes the most sense to this student at this time!