Slice of Life Tuesday- Rendezvous With Ralph

During our professional lives there are moments that are profound and memorable. Last week I had one such experience, when I finally got to spend time in the company of an educator  and writer I have greatly admired for more than a decade.

I attended the annual national conference of ALEA (Australian Literacy Educators Association) in Darwin as both a presenter and a willing participant.

In 2001 when I first traveled to the US to work as a Literacy Consultant, I became aware of the work being undertaken by Ralph Fletcher. I began to read Ralph’s published works starting with ‘Breathing In, Breathing Out- Keeping A Writer’s notebook.’  My personal library now brims with an extensive list of  Ralph Fletcher titles. There are enough to start the Fletcher Wing.

My own professional work has benefited enormously from Ralph’s extensive knowledge as a writer and an educator.  His words, his voice are indelibly etched in my conscious mind when I work with teachers and students.

So, it was with obvious joy, that I flew to Darwin for the conference at which Ralph was a key note presenter. To finally hear those words I have admired in print given true voice was something quite special.

During the conference Ralph touched on some familiar themes such as the writer’s notebook and how we can make to most effective in the writing lives of both students and teachers. He also talked extensively about boy writers and their particular needs, and ways in which writers need to playful with language. Word play proficiency takes time to develop, so every time a young writer sits down to write they must be encouraged to play with language, the way proficient writers do.

Ralph also delivered the Donald Graves Address where he reiterated the need for children to be given time, choice and ownership in order for writing to flourish.
Ralph Fletcher at ALEA Conference  Darwin NT Australia July 9-12 2014

I had a rare and privileged opportunity to talk with Ralph during the conference, so I soaked up those moments. I was most grateful for his generosity of spirit in affording me these conversations.  I just happened to have my copy of Breathing In, Breathing Out with me. It now bears a much valued inscription.
Alan Wright, Choice and Voice In the Writer's Notebook, ALEA Conference, Darwin NT July 9-12
There is much to share, but in this post I will present some of Ralph’s own messages regarding boy writers.

Creating Boy Friendly Classrooms by Ralph Fletcher
*Get boys excited about writing. Worry about their engagement first; the quality will come later.
*Give them real choice about what to write and how to write about it.
*Show an interest in what subjects your boys are passionate about. These often make great topics for writing.
*Be more accepting of violence in writing (with commonsense limits).
*Celebrate the quirky humour in boys’ writing. (Humour = Voice)
*Give boys specific praise during writing conferences.
*Don’t overwhelm boys with too many revision suggestions.
*Don’t insist that students revise everything they write.
*Make room for genres that engage boys: fiction, fantasy, sports writing, spoofs/parodies, comics/graphic novels, nonfiction, etc.
*Allow upper-grade students opportunities to draw while composing.
*Messy handwriting is a developmental issue that affects many boys. Don’t take it personally. Allow students to keyboard when possible.
*Talk about the writer’s notebook as a place to collect important “stuff” including odd facts, artefacts, quotes, lyrics, and drawings.
*Include mentor texts that appeal to boys: Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka, for example.
*Show an interest in the writing boys do at home, for fun.
Be inclusive of what  writing you allow kids to read out loud. If only sincere, realistic, emotional pieces get shared, boys will turn off.
*Don’t be surprised if boys view other boys as their main audience.

*Take the long view. Be patient. Don’t expect great writing right away.


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I am not yet familiar with Ralph Fletcher, but will definitely look for his work. I absolutely love the list of ways to create boy friendly classrooms. I have two boys of my own and can see he is dead on with this list! :-)

  2. Love Ralph Fletcher! how amazing for you to get to talk to him. Your list is really helpful, Alan, and I will share it with teachers in the fall. Thank you!

  3. What an incredible experience! Thank you for sharing Ralph's wisdom about boy writers with us. I will definitely keep this list in mind as I plan for the fall.

  4. What an awesome experience for you! Love the inscription in your book! He inspires you (and me too), but you inspire too. So glad you shared this slice of your life.

  5. What an amazing experience to have been a part of! Ralph Fletcher is a giant in our field, and my bookshelves are lined with so much of what he's written, too. Thanks for sharing the list, too.

  6. I could open my own Ralph Fletcher wing too. (I loved that description). You are so very fortunate to have been able to spend time with Ralph. He is such an exceptional teacher and leader in writing workshop.


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