Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Igniting Writing


As the start of another school year dawns the question arises –How do I most effectively engage my students in authentic literacy experiences?

How do I encourage them to become life long readers and writers?
It is important to remember that during the summer, many of them have not consistently engaged in reading and writing. For some, virtually no time has been spent on such pursuits.
How do we rebuild their literacy muscles? How do we build their stamina for these critical literacy experiences?

In these early days and weeks when students re enter school, building personal relationships should be priority one, -finding out what defines them as literate beings. Students need an opportunity to talk and think about their reading and writing intentions. Some may need to draw, sketch create maps etc to further stimulate their thinking about potential writing ideas.

It would make sense to have them create lists of their individual writing ideas and then discuss why they included certain items on their lists. Such conversations stimulate thinking and help to clarify ideas. Using Nancie Atwell’s idea of identifying each student’s writing territories is a great way to launch writing in the classroom. Atwell defines territories ‘as the range of things I do as a writer.’ It includes the genres that one has written in, subjects one has written about or would like to write about and the potential audiences for writing.

Asking young writers to think about and document their respective territories provides them with a place to go when they need to think about what they might like to write. Territories are the broad parameters of their writing. They form an ideas bank.

Once your students have brainstormed their writing territories they should be encouraged to talk freely about the items listed. It may further assist students if you partner them up provide turns at reading their lists to each other. They may be inspired by an idea mentioned by their partner and this can be added to their list.

Atwell believes that teachers need to create their own Writing Territories list which they can share as a model for their students. It should include ideas, obsessions, experiences, itches, aversions, feelings, -in fact anything that influences your writing. Then think about the many forms your writing will take – and add these to the territory list. Finally, consider the many different readers to which writing will be directed. After-all, we write to be read, so the various audiences are important to this end and should be listed. By modelling the writing territories list, teachers provide a clear path for students to follow, as they prepare to launch their writing efforts.

My territories would include:
Poetry –how to make it less daunting for teachers and students
Rhubarb and tomatoes
Songs that speak to me
My summer observations
My childhood memories, particularly time spent at Lake Road
My ongoing obsession with lists
My memoir pieces for Sara and Cooper
Education –what is happening to our public schools?
Travel adventures and dreams
Sporting triumphs and tragedies
New York memories
Public transport woes and other frustrations
Pets
Photography and art
Writing in cafes



Writing territories are often broad in nature. It is when students begin to identify a topic/issue for writing, that more specific items should be listed. At this point we move from territory to topic.

E.g. Territories – Pets
Topic – My dog Boo loves to go to the beach

Once a topic has been identified students need to be shown how to list those details they may wish to include in their writing. Such list making assists the writer to organize ideas and create some structure for the writing to follow.

My list for ‘Boo at the Beach’ might include such matters as:
The futility of chasing seagulls
Retrieving the tennis ball
Swimming in the shallows
Scampering along the shoreline
Socializing with other dogs

The secret ingredients in this launching process are –thinking, listing, sharing, talking, organizing, and planning. By honouring process, we will ensure a better product is produced. These ingredients need to be present so that we can set about igniting writing in our classrooms. They are the vital spark.

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