SOL2015 March 11 Turning Up The Volume In Student Writing
A priority for any writing program is to progressively build the stamina of young writers, enabling them to sustain their writing efforts for extended periods. The aim is for the writer to reach a stage where the ideas flow freely and the blank page surrenders to a relentless flow of words. Well, today I found myself striving towards that end with three classes of Grade 4 writers.
Too often young writers become distracted and a gap emerges between their intent and their action. The talking so vital in the pre-writing phase continues into the composing stage and the promise of words evaporates. I promised these young and enthusiastic writers that we would have plenty of time for more talk and discussion when we had produced some words on the page.
Issues frequently arise that interrupt the flow of writing. Some young writers get hung up on perfectionism. They censor and edit in their heads. Consequently, the words have trouble making it onto the page. They allow the flow of their writing to be halted for the sake of a single word. A solitary word, unfamiliar to the writer, hijacks the natural flow of the writing. Hundreds of words may in fact, be held up for the sake of a single word. I discussed this scenario with these young writers.
What can you do to allow all those exciting words in your head to reach the page instead of being held up by a single word?’
‘What might you do if this situation arises in your writing?’
‘What strategies might you use to deal with that unfamiliar word so that you can move on with your writing?’
Circling, underlining, leaving a space were some of the options they offered to overcome this potential hazard
So, how do we assist young writer to remain focused on the task, and also build the kind of stamina necessary to keep returning to the task each day? How go we assist them to develop the determination to produce powerful words for others to read?
I initially asked these young writers to give their special words the best chance of reaching the page by locking in the ideas discussed and planned during pre-writing. ‘Don’t allow anyone, or anything to distract you from creating some magic on the page. Let’s see what happens when we give our undivided attention to this challenge. I think you’ll be surpised.’
Then I explained that I would play some quiet music to assist them to remain focused. I asked them to remain focused on their writing while the music played and respect the writers around them.
|An opportunity to build writing stamina|
The room fell silent and they wrote with deliberate intent for twenty five minutes, groaning when I asked them to join me for share time. Some endeavoured to keep writing as they moved to the meeting area, such was there connection to the task. I sought feedback for them:
It was so calm, I could concentrate
I wrote so much more than I usually do
I was able to think of so much to write
It was easy to think because everyone was quiet.
The music helped me
Everyone around me was writing. I liked it.
Then I asked each young writer to move to any part of the room and reread their writing ‘aloud’ to ensure it looked and sounded right. I wanted them to make their writing ‘reader friendly. Almost all of them undertook some revision action.
|Rereading aloud in order to hear the words as a reader would hear them|
The final part of the lesson was to share the writing with a partner and provide written feedback. I modeled this with a couple of students to demonstrate the kind of words that would support a fellow writer.
They listened actively to each others pieces and earnestly strived to give meaningful feedback. Having to provide written evidence of their listening (on a post it note) was a compelling force. It made them a little nervous they informed me later. Their confidence in providing written feedback will grow with practice I assured them.
|Providing written feedback as they listen actively to a writing partner|
The teachers observing these lessons were rightly impressed with the efforts of these developing writers. I have asked them to follow up on these strategies throughout the coming week.
The confidence of these young writers will grow as they feel an increased sense of accomplishment. Their stamina for writing will grow too. The volume of words in their notebooks will expand and give their teachers more evidence of their writing strengths, - as well as vital data on where teaching needs to be directed.
I finished the classroom day feeling both tired and delighted.