So How Do We Create Passionate Writers?

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I started my reading transformation 2 years ago, realizing that I needed to create a sense of urgency and passion regarding books in my classroom.  I knew I should focus on writing, I knew I should dedicate more time to it, more energy to it, and yet… I just didn’t know where to begin.  It wasn’t that I was a bad writing teacher, after all, my students write a lot and often, but my passion just wasn’t there, in the classroom to urge the student so push themselves further.  To really find themselves as writers.  Yet, here I sit, the author of two books, a blog that is read by a global audience, and barely was that transferring into my classroom.  So where was the disconnect.  Why did I not turn my students into passionate writers as well as readers?

I knew I had obstacles; a determined curriculum that had us on a breakneck pace.  Students at such varying degrees of ability that there didn’t seem to be a middle ground.  Things that had to be taught no matter what.  And time, never forget time, and just how little we have of it. But still, there has to be a way, within our prescribed curriculums to create excitement and urgency in the craft of writing.  There had to be others who had better ideas.

So I turned to Voxer, I have a group there with people I really respect, and they started sharing their ideas.  So thank you group, here are some of the highlights for how we can create passionate writers:

Choice in process.  We cannot underestimate the power of choice in our writing curriculum and what it means for students to be able to explore their own true writing style.  Yet, within a prescribed curriculum, it can seem as if there is no choice.  I have found though that I can give students choice of how they write, greater engagement occurs.  Sure there is a process, but that process may look different from child to child based on what they prefer.  Some will want to type right away, some will stick to a pencil.  I have even had students dictate stories to others or to a Livescribe pen.  Let them discover how they write best and accomodate as much as you can, then at least they can focus on the writing, not the process,

Choice in topic.  Even within a curriculum that tells me what students should be creating, there are many ways to add choice in topic.  If the area of focus is argumentative essay, don’t limit what the students can write about.  Help them discover something they are passionate about and help them explore.

Choice in audience.  This was a great point brought up by Chris Wejr and something I had not considered.  I always assume that students want to share their work with as big of an audience as possible, but this may be far from the truth.  Students may want to only share with me or a trusted friend.  Students may want to publish it for the whole world to see.  What we need to do as teachers is figure out what each child would like and then honor that.  I would not have wanted the whole world to see my writing as a 13 year old, I bet I have students who don’t either.

Choice in partner.  I often have students write together but when I pair kids up I can sometimes stop their writing process.  Writing can be very personal, so I often think of what type of writing is occuring and match that to the relationship students need with their partner.  Sometimes having your most trusted friend as your writing partner can be a very good thing.

Authentic purposes.  Last year I was able to find more authentic purpose in our writing, so when we wrote our op eds, they were for the newspaper to be published, not just me.  When we wrote a non-fiction picture book, they were for our 1st grade buddies.  When students had a genuine audience and purpose for their writing, they felt more in control because they understood what the task at hand was.  They knew they had to write succinctly for the newspaper to publish their words, they knew they had to find an accessible voice for their 1st graders.

Passion.  Once again, we have to invest ourselves into writing, whether it be through modeling, discussion, or general excitement. Much like we share our passion for reading by thrusting books into the hands of students for them to have an incredible reading experience, what if we did the same with great writing emphasizing how spectacular it is?  What is we start telling students that we thought of them when we read something because it reminded us of their writing?

Minimizing our critique.  While I believe we have to teach students to be better writers, I think sometimes our eagerness to help can stymie the process.   So figuring out what the best process is for each child to support their growth without killing them with corrections.  Sometimes it is okay to just write for the sake of writing.  Sometimes it is even ok to share uneditied writing just to show off our ideas.  Not all writing has to be finished or polished.

Spontaneity.  This great point was brought up by Ben Gilpin and I couldn’t agree more.  We should look for the moments in our everyday where we are inspired to write and that does not just need to be within writing time.  I get ideas to write all of the time and then try to find the time to actually jot down my thoughts.  What if we created environments where journaling and small moment writing was a natural part of our day?

Sharing our writing life.  I tell my students all the time about the things I write, but how often do I show them?  How often do I write in front of them?  How often do I stop and write in the middle of the day because inspiration strikes me?  I think much like we showcase our books reads to create a reading community, we have to showcase our writing too.

What other ideas do you have?  What did I miss?

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

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12 thoughts on “So How Do We Create Passionate Writers?

  1. Carol Teitelman says:

    I appreciate your reflection and the many parameters you write about within each of your highlights. I remember fondly the writing box I created as a student teacher in a mixed 2nd-3rd grade. I had (this was long ago) cut about 120 images from magazines and used contact paper to cover each of them. I then numbered them. All students were welcome to go to the writing box when they had completed an assignment and choose any picture to use as a “writing prompt”. There was no time limit…just when you were finished your story. The sharing box was like a mailbox atop the writing box. I received poems, short stories, non-fiction and one student wrote out the numbers from 0 to 1000. I was always amazed at what I received and each one got a note that thanked them for sharing their creative spirit with me. No grade, no assessment,,,,
    Thanks for bringing that memory back. I think the box had the choices of topic and process, the spontaneity and the sharing of our lives that you spoke of and that’s why it was such a pleasure for both the writers and me!

  2. gmr12 says:

    Fabulous ideas! As my district embarks on the use of the Calkins Units of Writing resource, your ideas hit home in a very inspiring and practical way. One other idea I thought of is choice in publication. Will it be a persuasive essay or an advertisement? Will it be song lyrics or an informational paragraph? Prezi or poster? There are many ways our young writers can share their writing with others.

  3. jesslifteach says:

    For me, my teaching of writing changed (very much for the better) when I started using the incredible authors that we are surrounded by as teachers of writing. Using mentor texts in my classroom provided authentic models of how writing can change the world. It kept me honest in finding authentic purposes to write. If I couldn’t find real world mentor texts of a certain type of writing, then it wasn’t a type of writing that we should be doing. It also proved to my students that good writers make choices all the time to make their writing better and to benefit their readers. All of a sudden, my students weren’t just taking my word for it that good writers did certain things, but they saw those things being done themselves and saw the power of those writing strategies. It also freed me up from having to critique their writing very much. Instead, I was not able to say, “Let’s take a look at how Seymour Simon did it, maybe you want to try and do what he did!” and then I could leave it up to the child to decide. The best part has been that as my students began to see the power of mentor texts, they then saw mentors EVERYWHERE. When we read a nonfiction text, all of a sudden a child would mention that the author we were reading made a lot of comparisons to help his readers understand something. Then, before I knew it, a child would try it out in his or her own writing. It truly has changed the way I teach writing, the way I see writing, the way I write myself and the way my students and I talk about writing.

  4. Matt Renwick says:

    Nice list Pernille. All you share makes sense. Audience and purpose is so critical for emerging writers. Thank you for allowing others to view your thinking and process.

    What might specific writing tools and strategies, such as developing a plan for an informative piece with a T-chart, fit within this list? Outlining what I want to say has helped me immensely as a writer. I have found that so much of effective writing resides in the planning.

    Take care!
    -Matt

  5. Brad Dunning says:

    You should try writing circles, Pernille. Based on literature circles, students have lots of choice. Choice in topics, choice in genres, choice in feedback, and choice in publication. I’ve been using them for five years and my students love them. http://www.heinemann.com/products/E01746.aspx

  6. placlair says:

    I think “minimizing the critique” is so important! Instruction helps, but the best way to get better at writing is… WRITING! If students get discouraged by feedback, then they won’t put themselves out there, they won’t enjoy the process.

  7. MGreenup says:

    Brilliant!

  8. I’m struggling to help my students grow as writers, and learned a lot from your post. One idea I try to model and teach my students is that feedback (whether written or oral) should, to be blunt, show that I read it. “Super!” and “Great job!” or a star at the top might make the writer feel a little bit good, but doesn’t help the writer to know WHAT was super or starworthy. As my students are learning to comment on one another’s digital projects, I’d like them to move beyond “You rock!” to more specific responses. Is anyone else working on this?

    • I believe our writing becomes more of a conversation through comments. While I don’t write comments on everything they write, when I do comment, whether face to face or in writing, I purposefully write lengthier ones. We also work on as a community how to comment and question each other’s writing, we do this through blogging a lot and that carries into our regular writing. I think making it an actual teaching point and focus brings its importance into perspective for the students.

  9. As I prepare to go back to a classroom position, all of these ideas resonate with me. The endless possibilities for differentiating learning are evident in this post. Thanks for sharing.

  10. […] I started my reading transformation 2 years ago, realizing that I needed to create a sense of urgency and passion regarding books in my classroom. I knew I should focus on writing, I knew I should…  […]

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