Sometimes a teacher just needs practical solutions to solve a problem. Answers that are direct and easy to implement are always a bonus.
As I talked to a friend and colleague today, I learned that some of the things that I have implemented this year (and changed from how I did them last year) fall into that category. My friend was looking for help turning her students into successful independent writers. Some of the things that I shared with her seemed simple enough, but they were definitely learned and not inherent processes.
1) Independent writing means just that...independent. Students will never get better if you hold their hands every second. Give them time to write alone every day and don't worry about reading everything they produce. Practice is practice.
2) Develop mini-lessons. During a 45 minute writing lesson, the teacher should speak no longer than 15 minutes. That is enough time to introduce one skill and model it/read an example of it. After that time, students will stop listening. So stop talking and let them start writing!
3) Give students daily writing feedback. Find a way to conference with students and edit together with them so you can model what that self checking process looks like. During this time I suggest that you choose a stationary location and let students come to you. You will actually have time to see more students that way.
4) Pick a core group of students to to sit near you. You have already identified the students who have the ability to work independently without causing trouble and needing one-on-one assistance. Those students can stay at their desks during writing time. The teacher station should consist of a table that fits at least 5 students comfortably. The students who need to be monitored should sit there for easy access to both discipline and guidance. The seat next to the teacher should be left open and the independent workers can rotate in for their individual conferences. This way, you are able to check the progress and comprehension of each student almost every day.