Evidence of Agency Among Student Writers

I frequently find myself engaging in wonderful conversations with young writers. It is particularly evident in classrooms where a genuine sense of the writer's agency is apparent. It is the natural consequence of a lot of mindful teaching on the part of those teachers. They display a commitment to building a classroom dynamic that values highly,  student engagement.

  These young writers are always keen to share their writer’s notebooks and the various pieces forming across the pages of their notebooks. They display an openness, and a quiet confidence, regarding the direction their writing is taking. Ownership and responsibility are most evident. 

  In one such Grade 5 classroom a writer informed me her writing concerned  memories of the toys she had when she was younger. She opened her notebook and quickly turned to a page which had a somewhat impressive title emblazoned across the top, - ‘The Headless Barbie.’ She smiled and informed me, 'I can't wait to write about this..…

The Writing identity of Teachers

Teachers sometimes possess a somewhat limited view of what it is to be a writer. That viewpoint often creates a tension in the classroom. It finds it origins in a lack of self-confidence, limited or negative writing histories, and the challenge inherent in composing for a student audience. These various factors negatively impact and frequently inhibit the incidence of teachers as writers.  

Professional development programs are helping to improve teacher confidence and many teachers are taking a lead from their colleagues and adopting a writing persona. However, it generally remains an issue in our schools, both primary and secondary. 

It remains imperative for teachers to make both their reading and writing lives visible to impressionable learners.

Teachers' identities as writers (or non writers) tend to be highly influential factors in the development of students’ writing identities. The power to influence should never underestimated. Teachers create the climate in the room. It is …

Providing Student Writers With the Essential Gift of Time

My earliest recollections of writing are wrapped around the weekly writing topics I was given in primary school. We wrote every Thursday afternoon, immediately after the lunch break. It wasn't even called writing. Our teacher referred to it as 'composition time.' We wrote for about twenty minutes in absolute silence in our 'composition' books. At the end of the allotted time, we handed in our written responses, then waited  a whole week to receive feedback for our labored efforts. It consisted of a mark out of ten and a page of red ink comments and slashes across the page. Then we sat and waited for the next teacher topic to be thrown our way. 
We wrote one day a week for twenty minutes. It wasn't much of a writing program by today's standards. It wasn't much of a way to learn writing back then either. I'm surprised we learned to write at all on such a starvation diet. I was just lucky enough to be the kind of kid who was driven to write in places ot…

Looking for Brave Writers in 2020

It is natural for teachers to want students writers to make progress. Unfortunately, it occasionally leads them to wrest control of writing away from students. As a result the methods used in some classrooms to teach writing convince the emerging writer that any control over writing lies entirely with the adult teaching it. The teacher latches onto controlling topics like a bulldog latches onto a bone. This need to control has it origin in their own writing history. Actions are based on limited knowledge of what it means to be a writer. The teaching over emphasises the surface features of a text and is based on a deficit model of writing. It's primarily about the writing, not the writer. The writing is there to be fixed, rather than developed. Such approaches never encourage brave actions on the part of student writers.

Every time I work with young writers I take the opportunity to discuss the importance of all of us being brave writers. -Writers who are fearless. Writers unafraid …

In School, Who Were Your Writing Heroes?

Who were your writing champions as you went through the formative years of learning? Who do you recall as a writing hero; a teacher who promoted writing through their own actions? Someone who inspired you to greater effort and made you want to persist.

Sadly, it wasn’t until I reached my tertiary education that I actually encountered such a person. The late Tom McCabe encouraged me to become editor of the college newspaper. He talked about writing in a way that previous teachers had conspicuously failed to do. He re-ignited my passion for writing poetry. He talked with passion and authority about the joy of writing.  He was a stand out champion for writing!
I certainly had teachers who stood out as beacons for literature and reading. I recall my teacher in Grade 3, Mr Murphy reading Kipling's Rikki Tikki Tavi, an adventurous tale of a mongoose and his adversary, the cobra. People such as Frank Harris, my Grade 6 teacher,  who read the poetry of Henry Lawson and Andrew 'Banjo'…

Writer's Notebooks - A Broader View For Developing Writers

Stories continue to reach my ears of schools where Writer's Notebooks are being presented to student writers in rather limited ways. Ways that serve to severely limit the notebook’s potential to influence and inform the developing writer. 

The notebook is capable of being much more than a depository for 'seed' ideas, lists of potential topics and an endless succession of Y charts, invoked every time a potential topic or idea is raised. 

When I see student notebooks limited to these types of entries, it suggests a somewhat narrow interpretation of what a writer’s notebook is expected to provide. They appear undernourished and underdeveloped. They are a pale imitation of what might be. They lack versatility and vitality.  
Student notebooks belong to the student writers. We want young writers to develop a clear sense of ownership, responsibility and pride in them. To be putting our energy into claiming control of their notebooks will never achieve such lofty goals. What I am su…

Teachers, Invest In Your Own Writer's Notebook For 2020

At the conclusion of each school year, I write, urging teachers to quarantine a little time for writing over the summer holiday period. As we rapidly approach the end of the 2019 school year in Australia, my message remains unerringly simple. 

If you are a teacher who writes, it is easier to present as a writer who teaches. 
     A Writer's Notebook holds the potential to become a valuable teaching resource, as well as a writing tool, if we approach writing, willingly. We must be the risk takers we want our students to become.

To become a teacher who writes requires  commitment and a willingness to quarantine some of your time to engage in writing. We become writers through regular practice. It doesn't happen through hopes and wishes. 

If the decision is to go down  the path of maintaining your own notebook, that notebook will benefit from some early feeding and the summer presents as a potential feast…

Imagine how much credibility you will attract upon entering your classroom earl…

Obtaining Another Just Right Book -Your Writer's Notebooks For 2020

As the Australian school year draws to a close, we reach a time where attention is given to student resources and supplies for the next academic year. 

So, I find myself thinking about how schools might best go about supplying students with writer’s notebooks for 2020. 

Handing out a one size fits all notebook relegates this special writing tool to little more than workbook status in the eyes of young writers. If kids come to view the writer's notebook in this way, it loses integrity. It loses its individuality. It can come to viewed as a 'teacher thing.' The ownership has been eroded significantly.

Such an outcome remains totally avoidable, but it does however require some pre planning on the part of those managing the acquisition of school resources. 

An increasing number of schools are asking suppliers to provide a range of writer's notebook prior to the end of the school year. Student writers are then asked to peruse the selection on offer and choose the notebook that …

Increasing Engagement For Adolescent Writers

I recall a quote in newspaper a few years back regarding the teaching of writing. Professor Peter Knapp was quoted thus;
‘Kids come out of primary school without mastering the technical aspects of writing and yet secondary schools aren't equipped to teach writing or, in many cases, prepared to teach it.’Let's unpack that statement a little...

There appears to be a persisting belief that Primary Schools are expected to teach students to read and write, and Secondary Schools can then focus on reading and writing to learn. This falsehood has persisted since my teacher training days –many decades ago!

It demonstrably fails to recognize the developmental nature of learning, and it certainly shows a disregard for students as learners.

We learn at different rates. We don’t all learn to tie our shoelaces on a predetermined day. Why would we assume that all learners reach the same developmental point at the conclusion of Grade 6- and why would we discontinue teaching them at their point of…

Teaching Writing Craft Mindfully

Teaching the craft of writing requires teachers to be explicit in their work with students. Explicit and mindful teaching occurs when teachers are clear about what it is they want children to learn and when  a meaningful, focused program of instruction is provided. 

This means conference notes and conversations, as well as writing samples are integral to the process of knowing what to teach. The instruction provided by the teacher benefits from being informed by such insight. Learning to look below the surface features and errors in the writing piece creates an opportunity to see the potential hidden beneath. Possibilities beyond grammar, punctuation and sentence structure emerge.

When consideration is given to focused learning, student writers receive opportunities to make sense of the learning by creating purposeful connections between lesson purposes, tasks, texts, and lesson reflections. If these aspects of our lesson align, we increase our chances of effecting improved learning out…