Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Show Students That You Write - Thoughts for Literacy Leaders


Writing can be lonely. Sometimes it's hard for our students to sit there with a blank page and nothing to say (or at least they may think so). What we know is that the more volume and variety that we place in our reading notebooks, the more jumping off points we will find for future writing.

There have been many times when I read through the pages in my writing notebook - skimming, reading entries, noticing words and phrases, wondering what prompted me to write that day.  Often, an idea will pop out at me and demand to be written. We want our students to have a storehouse of ideas that they can draw upon throughout the year.

If we can get students to start the school year with volume and variety, they will be well on their way to a year of writing. Sometimes students will get an idea for a story and begin writing it in their notebook. Several weeks later, we will find them still spreading the story over pages and pages of their writing notebooks. This prevents them from exploring all types of writing in their notebooks. Lots of quick writes, lists, descriptions, memories, poems and sketches can fuel student writing as the year progresses. For now, writing a story for days and weeks limits the opportunities for our students to discover all kinds of writing.

Sharing My Notebook: 
A Conversation About Volume and Variety
I recently visited a class of third graders to share my writing notebook with them. I planned to help them understand the kinds of things they could write in their own notebooks by sharing the variety of entries in my own notebook. For some students, it might have been the first time they have been part of a writing workshop and the task is new to them. For some, it's just hard to think about what they want to write. Ideas from other writers can inspire them.

The children were gathered on the rug with their notebooks and pencils in hand. As I shared they were encouraged to jot down anything that might inspire an entry in their own notebooks. I categorized some of the kinds of writing I have done in my notebook. As I shared, several students offered comments about connections they had made with my writing. Some jotted a few words into their notebooks to inspire their own writing. 

These are the categories I shared:


Lists are great for writers. A quick list jotted in a writer's notebook can be a source of ideas for future writing. For students who struggle with a blank page, writing a list is something that comes easily. Later, we can encourage students to go back to those lists for pebbles of inspiration.

I shared these lists from my notebook with the class:

     * thoughts about the cottage my grandparents had when I was young
     * questions about my time at the cottage that my family might help me remember
     * celebrations - things worth celebrating when I was feeling grateful
     * things about my dad - my attempt to make a list of all the things I loved, 
        remembered, appreciated, and admired about my dad.  

Memories, Small Moments and Descriptions:

Sometimes writers find themselves writing about memories or small moments in their lives. We call on our senses to bring this kind of writing to life. We hope that children will attempt this kind of entry in their notebooks. For some students, it is a struggle to tighten the focus of their writing and zone in on a small moment or a description that has depth. I hoped that by sharing some of these entries students students would give this kind of writing a try.

I shared these entries from my notebook with the class:

          * Thanksgiving with my family (using senses to describe)
          * A memory that took on the shape of a poem
          * A captured moment when a deer paused alongside the road
          * A quiet morning reflection
          * My thoughts about the homeless on a cold, bitter morning
          * The beautifully tinted morning sky on the way to school
          * A trip to New York City


Collections of Quotes, Notes 
and Things to Remember:

I am a collector. Many people are. I was hoping that if I shared what kinds of thoughts I collect in my notebook, students would be inspired to do the same. I shared these entries from my notebook with the class:

          * Notes from a book I was reading
          * A piece I saved from the newspaper (taped in piece)
          * Fascinating words, where I heard them, what they mean
          * Collections of quotes about writing 
             (my own and from other writers)
          * A pressed flower taped into my notebook

Writing and Sharing

After our conversation, the students settled around the classroom in comfortable spots to write. I watched as some children immediately got comfortable and focused on their writing. Some of them had that vacant look on their faces as they stared at the blank page. I knew I needed to chat with some of them to see if I could just help them get started. I moved around the classroom to talk quietly with these young writers. I chatted with students who were continuing a piece of writing they had started the day before (a story about an ice skating competition). I visited with some students who quickly started a piece inspired by something I shared with them (a piece about the animals seen in the backyard, a trip to Alaska). I was delighted to find some very creative and humorous pieces like that of a student who was writing about why he hates to be the youngest one in his family. But not all conferences are easy. I scooted down next to those reluctant to write and helped them to brainstorm some possibilities hoping they would be confident enough to start something - anything.

As the writing workshop came to an end, the students gathered in a circle in the meeting area. When I asked who would like to share their writing, several hands went up. Some students were inspired to start new entries. Some students had jotted down ideas they might use on another day. Hopefully, they understand that volume and variety will fuel their writing possibilities throughout the year. 
As adults (teachers, literacy leaders, parents) it's important for us to show students that we write. And at this time of the year, we have the opportunity to show them the variety of writing we do.