Launching Your Writing Program with Purpose
To be most effective as teachers of writing we must issue an invitation to students to become involved in the things that writers in the wider world actually do. As teachers, we too need to do these important things. If we do the very things we’re asking students to undertake, we significantly increase the possibility the year in writing achieves the lofty goals we set.
The creation of a predictable, literate environment where thinking, reflection, revising, and sustained purposeful writing are valued should be the light that drives us forward. So, as a new school year appears in front of us (in Australia) I share the following ideas about writing to assist in your important work:
· Share your reading and writing life. Allow your students to see you as a joyfully literate adult. Make your own writing visible from day one. Students learn by seeing the writing process in action, being modeled consistently by the most proficient writer in that classroom— you, the teacher!
· Share the ways you problem solve as a writer, –how you seek out topics and ideas for writing. How you use your notebook to harvest and collect the essential. Let them SEE how the work of the writer is accomplished. Make writing visible. Notebooks need regular feeding. Show them how you do this.
· Do your homework –Find out what they like to write about and how they like to write about it. Discover what they read. In those early days of a new term the teacher acts as a researcher, eager to know each student as an individual learner –interests, strengths and areas requiring support.
· A sea of talk is an essential component in establishing a vibrant community of literate learners. Having opportunities to talk, draw, and plan writing avoids the hesitancy associated with cold start writing. Pre-writing activities are central to success for inexperienced writers. There’s a lot more to WRITING than just writing. It’s also TALKING, DRAWING, THINKING and READING. Encourage authentic conversations around writing. Talk assists the writer to discover what they wish to say (topic) and how best to present it (genre). Ask, how do writers normally write about this topic /issue? Encourage student writers to write about those things that matter most to them. Avoid the rise of students who write purely to be ‘teacher pleasers.’
· Once you have established the needs of your fellow writers you begin to plan and present explicit/mindful lessons. Lessons that provide opportunities for students to develop increased confidence and experience as writers. You will be teaching them HOW to become more effective writers.
· Writing is fun and rewarding when it feels real/authentic. Kids will persist with something that has genuine purpose.
· Writing needs to be approached in a way that teaches how to write, rather than what to write. Don’t assume students want to write about ‘the holidays.’ Choice is critical. A teacher’s role is to assist the inexperienced writer make informed decisions about the writing they undertake.
· Ownership is important. By encouraging ownership, we increase the likelihood of engagement. The topics/ issues/ideas that fuel their writing will emerge if discussion centres on finding out what is important to the writer. Students need opportunities to make decisions about their writing intentions. We should not feel responsible for decisions surrounding topics, genres and modes. Such practices entrench dependency and stifle independence.
· Avoid Sentence Starters. Teacher tells –students all respond. Sentence starters do nothing to encourage a community of thinkers. Why would you restrict yourself to reading 25-30 pieces that all start exactly the same? If you want students to develop as thinkers encourage them to be responsible for thinking about the relevance of the writing they choose to undertake –the tone and the message it conveys.
· Establish an awareness of multiple audiences from the very start! Who are you writing this piece for? Who do you want to read this? How do want your writing to look on the page? Where do you intend to publish this?
· In the beginning it’s all about encouraging confidence and writing volume. For that reason, teaching that deals purely with surface features to the detriment of developing the writer should be consigned to the back seats. Reserve judgment and focus on generating content. - The raw stuff that can later be shaped and refined. By providing regular opportunities to write, the stamina necessary for writing to flourish will develop across those critical early days of the new term.
· Provide conditions in your classroom where students are afforded opportunities to write in their notebooks daily. Students will learn to respect and value the integrity of the notebook if such expectations are established from day one. Part of that integrity is always having notebooks accessible in class. This important expectation needs to be established from the moment they launch into their initial notebook entries. Chart the expectations for notebook, so that clarity exists for all writers.
· Teach students how to harvest ideas/topics from their life, reading and their thinking. This fueling of ideas is an essential component of the writing classroom. Celebrate wonder. Fine tune observation and help your students connect to the potential in simple ideas. Activate the use of the senses to help them to see the world around them.
· Encourage students to write in places beyond the classroom and do the same yourself. Challenge the prevailing view that writing is something we just do at school. Aim to take writing beyond the four walls of the classroom.
· Identify authors you trust to assist you in teaching particular aspects of writing. The gathering of suitable literary mentor texts is a life source to your work as a teacher of writing. Adopt authors you know and trust. Adopting mentors, means you are no longer isolated as a teacher of writing. Adopting mentors assists you to begin the important work of learning to read like a writer. You become part of a larger community of writers. Encourage your students to find mentors of their own.
· Linking writing to reading is essential. Don’t assume your students make this connection. Make it your mission to establish strong links between the things we do as readers and how this influences our writing. Ask yourself, what is this author doing, that I want my students to be able to do? Have your students ask, what is this writer doing, that I wish I could do?
· Remember to maintain the regular modeling & sharing related to aspects of your own work as a writer. Your credibility as a teacher of writing dwells here.
· Establish your routines for conferring with students and begin documenting these conferences. Provide students opportunities to employ strategies learned in workshops and conferences as well as working on their own ideas. You are establishing rituals and routines for yourself and your students. Everyone is accountable in the writing community you are establishing.
In the most predictable environments, the most unexpected things often take place.
· Be alert to opportunities to celebrate those small gains that student writers make each and every day. Teachable moments abound. Be ready to embrace them.
· Establish a sense of trust. Trust is a prerequisite for a student’s continued willingness to engage in writing. This is where community will thrive and grow. Students must feel free to regulate their writing behaviours, their use of resources and the writing environment.
· Above all, have fun. Let your students be in no doubt that their teacher is joyfully literate! A lifelong reader and writer.