Writing Workshop

#WhyWeWrite

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As we sat at Panera at 6am on a Monday morning having breakfast and feeding our writing souls, Kara reminded us that the National Day on Writing was fast approaching. Our conversation quickly turned to why each of us writes. We noticed many similarities but also recognized that each of our reasons why is a little different and that these differences stemmed from the what and how attached to our why.

Why We Write

Beth →  Honestly, I find writing to be a way to process and reflect on everything. I find more power in writing my thoughts down than just reflecting in my mind (which is what I often do due to time). I write to find myself and to figure out where I want to go.

Corinne →  Writing isn’t easy for me. But the more I do it, the more I realize it can be a relaxing and creative outlet for me. When the words come easy, it is one of the most rewarding things I do in my week.

Kara → I write for a couple of different reasons. I write because I’ve recognized the importance of doing what I ask my students to do. I also write because I believe that I have something worthy of sharing. Rarely does anything go perfectly in my classroom, but when something is especially successful or impactful, I don’t want it to end with my students. I feel an obligation to share successes with educators in hopes that other students are impacted, too.

Lori →  I write to challenge myself and my thinking.  I have never truly identified as a writer, but I have always valued the importance of it.  Blogging has allowed me to experience writing differently.  Writing helps me to think deeply about what I do and why I do it. For me, it is an outlet to reflect and adjust my thinking and practice.  This is powerful and productive.

Rachel → Writing is a way for me to decompress and reflect. I keep a daily journal that I write in before bed every night, and it helps to take a weight off every time I put words down on the page. I also think of this writing as a way to remember what I was going through at the time – I have looked through past journals and reflected on the growth I’ve made since I was the person who wrote those past words. I also write to model for students – in my professional writing and the work that I do specifically to show to students. I want to be an authentic teacher of writing, and I can’t achieve that if I’m not writing myself.

Rita → I am finding that the more time I make for writing the more rewarding writing is. I am writing most often to help me reflect – on my day, my work, my learning, my life in general – and this writing is inspiring me to broaden my why. These daily reflections are spurring writing that (hopefully) moves beyond me and that I hope will help others to think and reflect.

How We Write

Beth – I write with little planning unlike what I ask my students to do. I often sit down in a quiet place and just start with a dribble or torrent of words. It depends on the topic and how comfortable I feel with the subject. When I write narratives, it is a slow, sometimes painful, process. Writing about my work or my family is much easier. I typically write more for this blog, but I do keep a journal that I try to write in often.

Corinne- I need a purpose and a passion before I can produce a piece. The brainstorming is the most important step for me. Once I have an idea, I write a first draft quickly.  My confidence level isn’t very high so I need feedback from my writing partners. I tend to revisit a draft many times before I am satisfied and towards the end of the process, I try to spend several days away from the draft so I can get some clarity about what I was trying to say.

Kara → I have to write ideas down as quickly as they pop into my head. Sometimes they go on sticky notes, sometimes they go in my planner, sometimes they go in Google Docs, sometimes in emails to myself, sometimes in the notepad app on my phone. I have ideas spread everywhere, and they’re often difficult to relocate! Once I have an idea, I have to have a quiet space to bring the little seed of an idea to life. Late nights no longer work for me and my family, so I find quiet time in the early morning hours when most of the world is still snoozing.

Lori – I start with an idea that I am excited about.  I choose topics that I want to dig deeper with or that I want to share with others.  I write a draft, revisit my writing, and then I share it with my think partners.  I don’t rush, I take my time in the process.  I appreciate the feedback from others as I write.  I always need an extra nudge from others to publish as I gain confidence in writing for an audience.

Rachel → Usually, I just start. I’m a writer who needs to just dive in, with my plan in my head. Then, as I’m writing, I will jot down little planning notes, or make boxes that say, “Look here! This is where you can go.” I am someone who loves to hold a pen, so writing in a journal or a notebook is the most satisfying to me. Digital writing is wonderful for easy revisions and the ability to share, but I’m a pen-and-paper rough draft person. I also love playing with hand-lettering, which I think lends itself to my love of journal writing.

I need a quiet space to write or some instrumental music in my headphones. I love being places where I can observe, especially when I can either be outside or look outside when I’m writing. Even when it’s not the subject of my writing, nature inspires me.

Rita → The 10-15 minutes I spend each in my bedroom sitting in my Gram’s chair surrounded by the smell of eucalyptus with my reflection journal in my lap has become one of the favorite parts of my day. I find myself writing sentence after sentence about the day. These sentences might tell of something that made me happy, or something I am still thinking about, or help me develop a plan for moving forward; they are messy, sometimes incomplete thoughts.  As I finish writing about that day I reread noticing ideas that I need to write more purposefully and coherently about so that I might be able to share them with others. The possibility of sharing this writing with others forces me to be much more careful. I find myself writing and revising, working hard to choose just the right word to convey an authentic message.

What We Write

Corinne– Nearly all the writing I do is professional.  I am not pleased with this because I am learning that writing is a personal and cathartic exercise that fulfills my verbal needs. Day to day, most of my writing is in the form of email to teachers and parents in our building, but I also enjoy blogging with my friends and texting with my daughters. I am also exploring how I can use social media like Twitter to express myself outside of my professional work.

Kara → I write a lot in my profession; I write emails, lesson plans, models of for my students, and now I blog! In my personal life, I write text messages, captions on my Instagram posts, and write an occasional Facebook post. A little over a year ago, I spoke at my grandfather’s funeral, and that was obviously an especially meaningful piece of writing for me to craft and share. This weekend, my cousin and best friend are getting married, and they’ve asked me to officiate their wedding, so I’m currently writing their wedding ceremony, which is exceptionally exciting and an unbelievable honor!

Lori – Much of my writing is professional writing that I do for my work. I am an idea writer.  When I have a thought or idea, I always need to jot it down (often on a post-it!), but then I take these ideas and elaborate further.  Sometimes these ideas turn into an email conversation with a colleague or a tweet or a conversation or a blog post or a professional development item. I write when there is a purpose – the format often changes.

Rachel → My favorite form of writing right now is my reflection journal, in which I write thoughts from the day, but it also serves as a gratitude journal. Being reflective is what helps me grow, and for me is a method of self-care. I also write models for students, but most of the time I show them a “final product.” I am going to work on showing them more of the messiness of the writing process. Blog posts are another form of writing I do, and a fun way to challenge myself to put my writing out there for others to see. One of my dreams in life is to write fiction, so I usually have at least one story cooking on the back burner. I don’t always give much attention to these, but I like knowing they are there.

Rita → Journaling is the most consistent writing I do and often leads to the two professional writing adventures I am currently enjoying – blogging with my writing friends and working on my dissertation. Also, I Tweet pretty often, write emails for work and text with family and friends.

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Why do you write? How does your why connect to what and how you write? How can we help students identify their why and encourage their what and how?

Environment · Students · Teaching

Writing Partners in an ELA Classroom

This blog is a testament to the power of writing and working with a group or a partner. As Rita and I explained in the “About” page of the blog, writing can be a daunting task – for adults and certainly for students too. Some people find that writing rolls right off the fingertips and others find it difficult. As I sit on this Labor Day morning at a Starbucks near my house, I find it challenging. The atmosphere seems perfect – coffee, laptop, beautiful sunrise, no TV or kids, inspiring music; however, I’ve been sitting for a while trying to decide where and how to start. My students are embarking this week on their first writing which will serve as a diagnostic tool for me and then they will take the initial draft to a final copy. I envision that starting the writing will be difficult for them too. Luckily, I have a group of writers to support me and who will give me honest, needed feedback before I publish this post.

For the last few years, I have tried to provide my students with the support that I have received from my writing friends by allowing them to work with a writing partner. The idea comes from Units of Study – Writing for Teaching Writing K-8 by Lucy Calkins and her colleagues at the Teacher’s College. I love how this has worked in my classroom. Writing partners start working together from the brainstorming phase of the writing process all the way through to the final product. The students get to know their partner’s writing almost as well as their own. There is definitely power in that.

Writing partners are NOT editors. I honestly have found very few eighth graders who are qualified to correct the spelling, grammar, punctuation, or usage of their peers. Writing partners are question-askers and feedback-givers. Helping another person with writing is not something intuitive to most students/adults. We spend time in class learning about how to be a good writing partner. It is a process!

These are the main guidelines in my classroom for writing partners:

  • Read the writing carefully and think carefully about the goals for the piece
  • Offer constructive criticism – what MIGHT your partner change to make the writing better?
  • Give feedback on how to improve the writing – what can your partner do better?

With our first writing of the year, I introduced the concept of writing partners to the class. I modeled what working with a writing partner looks like by using this writing group. Along with discussion of how everyone (even J.K. Rowling) works through multiple versions and drafts of writing and how everyone elicits feedback from others, I showed students Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 10.04.24 AM.pngmy draft of an earlier blog post. We talked about how my writing partners read my writing carefully, gave me suggestions on how to make the writing better, and also what they liked about the piece.

Getting writing partners started is definitely a process. It isn’t easy sometimes. You will have partners who gel immediately and have the most amazing conversations about their writing. And you will have partners who struggle and need one-on-one guidance from you. Students get more comfortable working with a writing partner as the year goes on and the discussions expand to lengthy conversations. I firmly believe in the power of using writing partners and work throughout the year to make the experience worthwhile for every student.

Some things to consider when and if you want to incorporate writing partners into your writing workshop:

  1. How do you want to put partners together? Do you want to assign partners or let students choose their partners?
  2. Will you allow students to team up more than once throughout the school year?
  3. How do you want students to share their writing? Google Docs? Pass Writer’s Notebooks back and forth?
  4. What strategies will you have at the ready if the partnership isn’t working well?

Student thoughts on writing partners:

“Writing partners are very helpful for me because I am very appreciative of getting many opinions on my writing so that it can be exactly how I want it to be when I turn it in.  It’s very helpful, also, because writing partners are a fresh pair of eyes that can catch small mistakes that you did not previously see.” -Olivia B

“I like the use of a writing partner because after awhile you get sick of reading your essay over and over again and it starts to make all of it the same. In the end, it was nice to have fresh eyes to read it and suggest anything to add to or take away from my writing to make it the best it can be.”  – Alyssa H.

“The good thing about our writing partners is that we had someone to ask a question whether it was about a word or if a sentence made any sense.  Also, they gave us some constructive criticism which helped make our essays better.” – Scott S.

I love reading student reflections at the end of a writing unit, and I always elicit feedback about writing partners. These responses help to validate the choice to incorporate partnerships into daily practice. I don’t know what I would do without my partners, and oftentimes, my students feel the same.

Reading

Making Yourself Visible as a Reader

Recently a colleague pointed out that she was impressed by the many ways I make myself visible as a reader.  At first, I thought, do I? Then I started to think about how many little things can be done to share our reading lives with others.

Email signature

Several years ago, I noticed a currently reading list as part of the person’s signature in an email I received. I love this idea and now list YA books, adult books and professional books I am currently reading in my email address. (I apologize for stealing this and I wish I could remember who originated this brilliant idea.)

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Currently reading bubble on office door

At one of my schools the office door is very visible, so I started listing what I am currently reading on a vinyl cling bubble. I have seen teachers share this in several 52941392124__992B12B5-A5F5-45A1-9DF1-646634EA1F5Edifferent ways in classrooms, too. One teacher has her name, her co-teacher’s name and her principal’s name on her whiteboard. Under each is the title of the book they are currently reading. Two teachers (one teaches 9th grade Social Studies) have a big Post-it in the classroom where all of the books the teacher has read this quarter are listed. Another teacher has an image of each book cover on her door representing each of the books she has a read this year.

Goodreads

Goodreads is a social media site for book nerds. This site allows you to share with other readers what you are currently reading and then rate and share reviews of books as they are finished. One of my favorite parts of Goodreads is seeing what my friends are reading and building my to-read list.  Goodreads also allows you to automatically share reviews and ratings of books read to Twitter and Facebook making your reading even more visible.

I am always surprised by how many people – teachers, students, and administrators – engage in conversations with me about books after receiving an email or walking past my door or friending me on Goodreads.  Some ask if I am enjoying a certain book or if I would recommend a title or how I find time to read so many books.  These conversations have helped me to meet teachers I may never interact with otherwise, reconnect with former students and share new learning.

Being a reader is definitely a big part of who I am as an educator and a person.  These three small things help me make being a reader visible to those around me and also help me to hold myself accountable to reading goals I set for myself.  How can you make yourself more visible as a reader to those around you?