Saturday, April 21, 2018

I Am a Writer

I'd like to imagine that most days I have a fairly decent handle on writing instruction. I understand the conditions for providing a space where writers are welcomed into the literacy club. Yet I still struggle with those who I have yet to win over -- those who would rather not say, "I am a writer." 

As a teacher in the Idaho Coaching Network, I was challenged to develop a special inquiry project this year, so with the help of Ralph Fletcher's book, Joy Write, I tackled this writing identity problem of practice. My goal was to use writing notebooks as a place to enjoy the process of playing with writing in hopes that each writer, specifically the reluctant ones, would find him/herself falling in love with writing.

At the beginning of the year I sent home a composition notebook with each student with directions to decorate the front and back cover before sending it back to school. 

At some point during the first month of school, I told my writers that their writing notebooks were designed to hold their most special thoughts and words. No strings were attached. No mandates were made. We put them in a special place where kids could grab them during Daily 5 and independently write in them if they wanted to.

My Frustrations:
  • The excessive random scribbles and pictures drove me crazy. Drawing and sketching are viable parts of the writing process for young writers, and I expected to see evidence of this. Unfortunately, it seemed like much of it had very little purpose and did not lead to writing.
  • I knew celebration would be key, because great writing is contagious. So when I saw that a writer had "invented" a way to use her writing notebook in a creative way, I made a huge deal out of it. This helped a bit but not considerably.
  • Many kids never chose to use their writing notebooks.

(early entries that we celebrated)

My solution:

  •  Over halfway through the year, I borrowed the open cycle idea from Ralph Fletcher. Between units, I took a break from genre studies and spent a week during writing workshop using only the writing notebooks. 
  • Each lesson began with a mentor text that I thought could inspire a new way of playing with writing. I never mandated that writers use the strategy, but I sure made a big deal out of how fun it would be to try.
  • Each writing time was sprinkled with lots of celebration and sharing of how they played with writing.
  • I also introduced the idea of collaboration. One day during our open cycle, writers were invited to work with a partner in their writing notebooks if they so desired.

 (open cycle pieces that included talking bubble stories, narratives, comic strips, fiction, and collaborative pieces)

  • After the open cycle, I saw that more students were choosing to write in their writing notebooks on their own time during the day.
  • There was less random scribbling, more drawing with purpose, and more actual writing.
  • I noticed more engagement from some of my reluctant writers.

For a first iteration, I'm happy with my first attempt at using writing notebooks as a way to encourage the play and joy that can lead to writing identities. I have plans to use them again next year with the intent of incorporating open cycles into my writing workshop time from the get go. I'm looking forward to seeing how this next iteration helps increase transfer of joy and identity into daily writing even more so than it did this year.

Thanks Idaho Coaching Network for encouraging a space where teachers can safely experiment with problems of practice and find solutions that benefit their students in the best of ways.

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