We have been immersed in fiction writing for the past three weeks. I have been amazed at the focus of my students, at the need for creation,and also their creativity. As always, the plans I started with now look nothing like the plans we had, and so I thought it only fair to share what writing fiction in 7th grade English has looked like for the past three weeks and what I have learned and remembered.
I knew that I did not need them to create the same product, after all, my standards assessed involve organization, word choice, conventions, and plot. Nowhere does it say that they must write a certain story, but instead I asked them to create something that would allow me to assess these things . I have been enthralled with their creativity process; yes, many students gravitated toward a written story with a neat beginning, middle, end, but others stretched their legs writing Minecraft fan fiction, movie scripts, picture books and even choose your own adventures. I have students co-creating stories from opposite perspectives, I have students writing free verse (it is harder than it looks). I have tales from their own lives and ones they have invented with made up words of their own. Because it has been their story, their way, they have wanted to work on it every day, excited to share it with others.
I have spent most evenings leaving feedback to students, thank you Google Classroom for making my life easy. I have spent most class periods meeting with students asking them to tell me what I should look at when I read their work and then helping them from where they are. I have gathered information on lessons needed and tried to support each child on their own writing journey, with the help of the support teachers I sometimes have. Always trying to move students one step further and helping them think about what they need next, rather than a broad lesson that could apply to all. The few whole class lessons we have had have been brief and centered around reminders on paragraphing, dialogue, and consistent verb tenses.
I have asked the students to please speak to one another, to please share their stories, to find those they want to write with and use each other as I use my own writing friends. I started with putting them into writing trio groups but since abandoned the idea, realizing that the stilted conversations they were having would never get them much further and instead asking them to find someone that will not only read their work, but also be honest in their criticism. This is still a work in progress, but I have seen the improvements, I have seen the growth and know there is something there.
I have asked them for their best draft, not their final version, and I owe so much to Kelly Gallagher for this wording. Gone is the anxiety over perfection. Gone is the notion that they must reach an unachievable goal as they hurtle toward the end. Instead they work diligently, trying to get it to the best of their abilities before they turn it over to me. Before they turn it over for more feedback that will ultimately push their story even further. They know the process is not done just because they hand it in today, because the project is called best draft, even though in reality, many of them have handed in amazing stories that need little more work.
Use the Space
I have asked them to please find out how they write best within the environment we have. How they best can support their own writing process, how they can use the classroom in a way that helps them better focus and find their flow. Kids have been in corners, moved tables, on bean bags and in the team area. We have had music, gum, and conversation. For some we have had headphones for quiet and spaces to concentrate. Each child is now a step closer to knowing how they write best, even within the confinements of a typical English classroom.
Find the Experts
For the past three months we have reached out to those who have walked the path before us; the authors that inspire us to write better. Using Skype we have asked amazing authors whose books delight us what their writing process is and how they edit. Every class has had different conversations but they have all centered around the same thing; find your own way, there is no right way for all, just a right way for you. Hearing it from the mouths of those whose books inspire us will always amplify the message we already teach; writing needs t be a part of you so find your way of writing.
So now what? We rest a little. We change our focus as our stories simmer in our minds and then in a about a week we return. Once the dust has settled, we look at the feedback we have received and we try to make it better. We speak of revision as if it is just one step but I know from my own writing experience that revising is ongoing, editing is hard, and that it sometimes means stepping away only to come back later. I still have much to learn as a 7th grade English teacher, I still have much to figure out, but this process? It made a difference in the last three weeks. Who knows how they will grow as writers next?
I am currently working on a new literacy book. The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum. So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.