Slice of Life Story Challenge March 2 -The Quest For independence

Today I worked in a classroom where student writers were encouraged to think for themselves when it came to making writing decisions. As a consequence, the writing of these students was varied and exciting. Their engagement was heightened. The classroom hummed with possibility.

As I moved about I was able to see student writers choosing not only their topics, but also the genre for their writing. They were fully engaged in matching their words to the needs of their readers. They were exhibiting an authentic sense of purpose and genuine ownership of the writing tasks they had chosen.

Each writer knew what they wanted to work on and how to approach their own particular writing challenge. Workshop time had been  invested in identifying the purpose of their writing. Every young writer had been afforded an opportunity to talk about their writing intentions with a partner. They had been encouraged to narrow the gap between their intentions and actions. In this classroom self-direction is being actively nurtured. The teaching of craft sits comfortably alongside independent action. These young writers are being actively supported to believe- writers make decisions. The work of this teacher is mindful, explicit and effective.

Young writers do not achieve this state of being because teachers merely get out of their way. They achieve self-direction because teachers actively support and nurture student growth towards independence. For Independent writing to be true in name, students need to be trusted to choose topic and genre and provided with support to grow into self-directed writers.

It would truly make my heart sing if classrooms that actively nurture self-directed writers were commonplace, but at this point of time, unfortunately they aren’t.

When teachers choose to control topic and genre, they deny students choice. They silence voice and they shut down the essential element of rehearsal.

Such approaches were everywhere during my own student days. I have met far too many educators wedded to such approaches during a long teaching career. Control grows out of anxiety and an inability to trust the learner to exercise a measure of ownership for the task being undertaken. Sadly, such approaches embed student dependency. They also inhibit initiative, reflection and intellectual growth. I am always imploring young writers to be brave and fearless. Inexperienced writers need teachers who possess a similar mind set. Risk takers and writers!

 Today provided an uplifting experience. I came home smiling. The quest continues…


  1. Writers ask risk takers, in a supportive environment ... another post that reminds me to always question my own teaching practice. Thank you, Alan.

  2. "Control grows out of anxiety." So true! This topic has been on my mind a lot lately and I couldn't quite put my finger on the precise cause. Thank you for helping to clarify my thinking.

  3. This is how to make a writer's heart sing with joy! Oh, how I too, wish this were the norm for all students. Sadly it is more of a rarity. What a wonderful day for you!

  4. Oh my! You spoke to my heart and soul. That anxiety and fear causing teachers claps their fingers around the throat of students writing is killing passion.

  5. yes. Yes. YES! This speaks to why I made the move to instructional coaching. I believe children are capable of so much more than we often give them credit for. Guiding teachers to see what happens when they step back and let learning be messy . . . that's why I do what I do! Teaching is not telling, and that gets confused so often. Thanks for speaking the words of my teaching heart!


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