The Nurturing of Self Directed, Independent Writers

The Nurturing of Self Directed, Independent Writers

As a classroom teacher, parent information evenings always meant the inevitable question arose, ‘What are your expectations for my son/daughter this year?’ It’s a great question to ask a teacher and I was prepared for it, having thought long and hard about how I would respond. 

I always wanted my students to develop into independent, self-directed learners and I had a year to achieve my goal. With the support of parents and the co-operation of the students, it was a goal for all of us to pursue. 

When attempting to foster self-directed learners, everything we do becomes important -what we do as educators; in every aspect of our teaching  Let’s consider what we do in the writing classroom.

In an increasing number of classrooms teachers encourage student writers to choose their own topics and writing projects. They purposefully teach their students routines and procedures for conducting themselves independently. 

Despite these admirable efforts, we sometimes see young writers  struggling to initiate their own writing ideas, young learners not displaying the kind of writing growth expected of them.

If kids are asking questions such as ‘How much should I write? or, ‘Is it okay to write about…?’ then it’s time to re-examine what we mean as independent.

Here are some actions to consider when trying to foster genuinely self-directed writers:

When it comes to the long term goal of embedding classroom routines and rituals aimed at nurturing the growth of independence, the answer lies in vigilance. 

Your instruction must be organized in ways that make it easy for students to be successful. This is what our instruction needs to do- set kids up to be successful in their own learning endeavours. Modelling and demonstration need to be constantly present in the writing workshop.

The most proficient reader and writer in the classroom must demonstrate the decisions and actions that characterize a truly independent, self-directed learner. If you wish for risk takers  to be a feature of the classroom, you must teach boldly and bravely.  Students will be more inclined to follow you out of the comfort zone if you lead the way. 

Continually reinforce the mantra –writers make decisions. Expect your writers once appraised of their options to decide on a course of action. Every day, you are striving to foster self-belief and self-determination.  Planning needs to reflect the objective of students becoming more self-directed in their learning pursuits. You must continually reinforce the intended outcome with your actions, not just your words.You are assisting the developing writer to narrow the distance between their intentions and actions. Making writers accountable is critical to achieving this goal.

Show your student writers how you persist with aspects of your own writing. Self-directed learners understand writing is essentially a problem solving activity. They push on through the tough writing days knowing struggle is sometimes part of the process. Engaged writers have more energy.

Make sure the choices you provide for student learners go well beyond choice of topic. It’s about how to begin, tone, voice, what to include (illustrations), etc.' Ralph Fletcher.  Encourage choice at every step of the process. 

Mini lessons, conferences, strategy group work and your share time provide opportunities to further notice and note student efforts towards independence. Feedback for effort is a powerful mechanism for empowering student writers and increasing engagement. Remind your students of all the independent actions you witness during the writing workshop. Let them know, you are noticing such behaviours.

The classroom environment must be supportive of independent action on the part of the child. Materials/resources must be accessible. 

We must work consistently to assist the developing writer to view themselves as writers  -Writers, whose words and ideas are worthy of consideration. Identity as a writer is critical to growing towards true independence. Referring to students as both readers and/or writers whenever possible, will hasten a growing sense of identity.

The last thing you want your students to be are sparrows in a nest waiting for you to feed them. Having students inquire, ‘I’ve finished. What do I do now?’ is a world away from independence.

Ask them, ‘What can you do when you think you’re finished?’ Sit with them to create an anchor chart of possible actions. It's strong evidence you wish them to make informed decisions. 

An anchor chart provides scaffolded support for  inexperienced writers. It helps to make independent action a reality.  We must remain alert and notice when student writers use initiative. Notice when they begin to realize, every stop is a place to start. We must work every day to shape the kind of learning environment we seek. 


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