Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good. ~William Faulkner
I’ve never thought of myself as a writer. My first couple of years teaching (first grade, at the time) I didn’t even enjoy teaching writing. It wasn’t until I started teaching second grade and found a book on something called, “Writer’s Workshop” that I began to change my view.
I don’t remember much from that book except the importance of student choice and the pitfalls of writing to a prompt. I started trying little bits of writer’s workshop, not telling my two, more-experienced, grade-level colleagues, and learning more as I went. Then, one summer I was able to attend a beginner’s training on teaching writing using a writer’s workshop approach. It was fantastic. Four days of learning, reading, observing, and practicing. Finally I was seeing the the techniques I had read about applied in a classroom setting.
I spent the next years trying, changing, and perfecting my writing instruction. I’ve studied the six traits of writing. I have focused more on my own writing. I’ve attended professional development trainings. My growth is linked directly to my students’ growth.
Here is what I have learned from implementing a writer’s workshop approach in my own classroom, and from training other teachers (as a district curriculum director):
- Kids need to be allowed to create. When students are allowed choice in topics, taught how to use their voice in their writing, and provided the structure in which to be free, they flourish. The most reluctant writers will soon be looking forward to writing time each day, and moaning when it’s time to move on to the next subject. Through choice, student ideas, efforts, and passions are validated and encouraged. There is simply not enough “creative” time in today’s classrooms. I am happy to see this starting to change via frameworks like writer’s and reader’s workshop, project-based learning, and maker spaces. We just need to continue that trend and allow students to drive their learning.
- Differentiation is a must. As educators we know the value of personalized learning. We understand the fact that every single classroom of students is heterogeneously mixed no matter how you might try to structure those groupings. We also know that differentiating instruction takes extra time on the part of the teacher. That is where conferring in writer’s workshop plays the most important role. I have said before, “If you aren’t conferring, you aren’t doing writer’s workshop.” It’s during these one-on-one conferences that the teacher can praise each individual, and also see where that student can go next. One student might need extra help on writing a strong lead, whereas another might be ready to learn how to incorporate dialogue into their writing. Minilessons at the beginning of workshop time are a must, but if teachers aren’t following that up with individual conferring, then they are doing the students a large disservice, and missing out on the simplest way to differentiate writing instruction for their students.
- Celebrate writing. Everyone likes to have their work recognized. This includes students. After taking them through the writing process, after they publish the piece of their choice, then celebrate that work. Author Celebrations can look different for each classroom, or even for each celebration. It doesn’t have to be extensive. It can be as simple as sharing as a class and giving praises as a group. At different times, I have invited in other classes, parents, administrators, and/or school support staff. The students shine in sharing their work. They have invested themselves in this project and want to share it with an authentic audience.
This is a small taste of the benefits to teaching writing using a workshop framework. The great part is that the enjoyment is two-fold. The teacher enjoys teaching writing more, and the students enjoy writing more.
I have been reading this book, Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown. In the book, she talks about embracing vulnerability (who thinks that sounds fun??). She also explains the difference between shame and guilt. Here is a summary she gives: “Guilt=I did something bad. Shame = I am bad.” She points out that guilt can often result in positive action, but shame does not. So, per Brown’s guidance, I am practicing shame resilience…
Since it’s the end of 2014 (side note: I have been working on this post for a couple of weeks now. I am fully aware that it is no longer 2014. And I will not feel shame over my procrastination of finishing the post in time), a certain amount of thought and reflection is expected, so here are some things that I will no longer be ashamed to admit in 2015:
1. Reading “non-intellectual” books: I love to read. I read for enjoyment, I read to relax, and I read to escape whatever it is I don’t want to deal with at the moment. Ask me what my perfect day would include and I would tell you a good book. Reading on the beach, reading in a bubble bath, reading curled up on the couch under a blanket…it doesn’t matter where. I have friends who only read self-betterment books. I have others who only read “the classics”. If someone asks me my favorite genre, I used to say historical fiction – which I still love. Within the last couple of years, however, I have begun reading and enjoying genres I had not really explored much previously. And to be honest, I was sometimes embarrassed to tell people what I was reading. But, I am no longer ashamed of my book choices (envision me standing on a precipice with my arm stretched out looking proudly on the land below me, while some theme music plays in the background). I find that I love young adult fiction and even (gasp) paranormal fiction and dystopian romance. One of my favorite books is In Between recommended by my 12-year-old daughter. We were both completely delighted to discover that our library held the other two books in the series! (Book lovers can be easy to please.) And I will readily admit that I have never enjoyed Shakespeare, and it takes me weeks to get through a self-improvement book (whereas I can read a good fiction story in a matter of days). And I will no longer allow other people’s opinions to embarrass me over my reading selections.
2. Having a big heart – figuratively, of course. When I was a child, I wanted to be a pediatrician. My mother would listen and not say much. As I grew older and looked into career possibilities, I leaned more towards being a physical therapist. I volunteered in the physical therapy department of a local hospital the summer before my senior year. The first day there I watched the therapist peeling dead skin away from the chest of a burn victim. That is the first and only time I have ever passed out. It’s safe to say, for a variety of reasons, health care professions were off the table after that summer. Later, my mother told me that she knew that I could never have a job where I had to hurt people (even in the process of helping them). And she’s right. To this day, I hate hearing the news because it’s filled with heartache and tragedy. A few years ago when modern-day slavery was brought to my attention, I decided that I needed to educate myself on it in order to do my part in helping end it. I would read very graphic books, some to this day that I can’t get out of my mind, and just feel sick to my stomach, literally. I came to a conclusion, that I know there is a problem, I know very practical ways I can help be part of the solution, but I don’t need all of the details. Going with this, I tend to care about friends, coworkers, acquaintances quickly. And oftentimes, more than they care for me. And while, that sometimes leads to hurt feelings on my part, I can’t change that part of my personality, and I’ve decided to stop thinking of it as a hindrance. I love big. Period.
3. I like to work. While you might be thinking this is a silly thing to be ashamed of in the first place, let me explain a little more. I am a mother of two elementary-aged children whom I adore. They are just as active as most kids their age. Financially, I have always felt like I needed to work, but on top of that, I love what I do. Some of my closest girlfriends are stay-at-home moms (or work part-time). I love them dearly, but there are times when they are talking that I would start to feel guilty about my choice to work full time. As though I’m not doing my job as a mother as well, or as thoroughly, as I could be if I didn’t work. But you know what? My kids are seeing a mother who works hard at a career she loves while still loving them and being present in their lives. I am proud to be a strong woman and show that to my children. And do I have it all together, all the time? No. Sometimes my kids eat school lunches on the days they wanted to pack because we all forgot to check the lunch calendar. Will they still grow up to be amazing adults? Absolutely.
4. I don’t live in a Facebook Fairy Tale. I’m actually rarely on Facebook, but when I am, I see a lot of “sharing” what people are making for dinner, how far they ran that day, a video of their straight-A student singing the National Anthem, on and on. Everything looks picture perfect. Brown says this, “The expectation is to be natural beauties, natural mothers, natural leaders, and naturally good parents, and we want to belong to naturally fabulous families.” Life is messy and difficult. Parenting is hard work. And while I don’t live a fairy tale, I will say this…life is fun.
5. I thought and thought about what to write about for #5, because it just seems like a list should have 5 things on it, and not 4. Four seems a bit incomplete. But the truth is, I’m sitting in bed on a Saturday morning trying to finish this, and I have about ten more things I could choose for #5. But as I think about putting them in print I realize they are either too private, or not that interesting. So, guess what…I am leaving the list at 4. I am not ashamed of that fact, either.
2014 was a bumpy year. When I reflect upon it (like any good blogger does at the end of a year) I see how much I’ve grown. I’m stronger. And I’m ready for 2015 and all it has in store. I will face challenges shame-free. Today that means staying in bed a bit longer and reading this historical fiction that I started a couple days ago.