being a teacher, being me, writing

As We Write…

All day, writing has been calling to me.  The magic of the words unfolding, my thoughts becoming clearer, my ideas set to page, taking a life of their own.  Ideas abound, swirling until I feel unsettled, craving the peace that inevitably arrives after the writing has happened.  A picture book?  A new book for educators?  A blog post?  A poem as I prepare to advise our slam poetry club starting tomorrow (wish me luck)?  The urge to write is there even if the ideas are not fully formed, fully present, but the keys call my name as I sit in front of the fire, reflecting on today.

I wonder how many of our students have that urge?  How many are called to write as they process the world around them?  Search for their unique way to sift through the bombardment of images and thoughts that constantly surround us?  How many feel the call of a pen, a journal, a keyboard, as a way to unpack and digest?  As a way to create something that didn’t exist until they decided to create it?

I have said it before, but it bears repeating; in our eagerness to make sure that students can write well, are we extinguishing their very urge to write?  To tell stories?  To reflect?  To process somehow?

When we ask our students who they are as writers, their answers lack little surprise; I am a writer who writes because I have to.  I am not a writer.  I hate writing.  I am a writer who writes in school, that’s it.

“How many sentences do I need, Mrs. Ripp?”

“How long should it be?”

“I don’t know what to write…”

Not let me write.

Not can we write?

But why do we have to write?  I will never use writing when I am… older…in my job…when I leave school.  Fill in the sentence however you see fit.

So for the next four weeks, we will play with writing.  We will form stories, journals, poems, plays, comics, whatever strikes our fancy as we take away the assessment.  As we make a space every day to simply write.  As we make a space every day to share what we wrote if we want to.  As we make room for the conversations that need to surround the writing and the writers.  As we strip away the to-do’s and search for the to-be’s.

As we discover perhaps not just who we are as writers, but more so who we want to be.  As we search and perhaps even find a place for writing somewhere in our busy lives so that perhaps, just perhaps, their answers will not always be, “do we have to write?” but instead can be “Do we have to stop?”

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.


5 thoughts on “As We Write…”

  1. I just started doing Quick
    Writes with my fifth graders. I like the idea of playing with writing. I’m hoping to reduce the number of reluctant writers in my classes.
    Thank you!

  2. I have hated writing most of my life. For me, the motor skills required to write, were hard. Just the act of writing required concentration. The results were less (far less) then stellar. To be criticized just because of poor hand writing, did not encourage me to write. Secondly, I am a dreadful speller. Between my poor spelling and dreadful handwriting, no one cared about what I WROTE. The content simply didn’t matter. If I had already lost coming out of the gate, why run the race? Things got better in high school where I had time to type my papers and correct them. But by then, my distaste of writing was set in concrete, if not stone. I have encouraged the teacher I work with to tease out what they are grading: handwriting, spelling, grammar or intellectual act of writing.

  3. My kids this year are doing better than ever before in writing. I think part of that is that I got a solid percentage of kids that already consider themselves writers, and they set the tone for the room. HOWEVER, I also took two major shifts in my writing instruction that seem to help a lot:

    1- *Every other unit* is a narrative choice piece. I do strategies minilessons (mostly from Roz Linder, because they exist and they’re easy and they’re great), give a prompt as an option (or they can write whatever), and let ’em rip. Having more narrative times means they get to play with more ideas, or build up to a longer story.

    2- I read “Hidden Gems” and I’m taking it to a sort of extreme. I give NO “constructive”/negative feedback on writing (except on essays, since they don’t have much of a frame of reference for “good” essays, which we’re working on), and I give no grades for individual writing pieces; they rate themselves after reading my positive feedback. I give 2-3 positive comments per paper, plus I tell them my favorite line and why I liked it so much. They still have a pretty good of how good their writing is, since they’ve read many stories over the years.

    1. Two questions, how do you work with students who “game” the system? The “My writing is perfect and I belong in Poet’s Corner” type student. The ones that KNOW their writing isn’t perfect but the “If Im going to give my self a grade Im giving myself a perfect grade” kids. The other one is the kids who see their work as terrible?

      1. I make them sit down and justify their grades to me using their portfolios (we put all important work in portfolios at the end of each unit). Only one kid tried to “game” it, and I had to tell him, to his face, that he didn’t deserve the grade he gave himself. It wasn’t exactly pleasant for either of us, but I could point to specific places that I wanted him to work on certain skills.

        I think having a standards-based report card actually helps this, too; they get a *lot* of grades from me on the report card, and they’re all focused on skills, so I can say, “look, your organization really wasn’t there for these specific reasons.” So, I was a little negative, but only to the kids who needed to hear it, and I made myself do it in person, so I’m hoping it felt less permanent.

        Other “negative” comments I’d like to give are addressed more effectively in minilessons, I find. A LOT of issues got cleared up in their second writing piece because all of my unit 2 lessons were based off stuff I saw in writing piece one. It certainly worked better than negative comments on papers; I’m fairly certain few students ever correct anything based on those (at least with me!)

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