Recapturing the Magic of Stories – Practical Ideas for Better Creative Writing

“Do we have to write?”  He looks at me and awaits my answer.  I know he wants me to say no, but instead, I nod.  Every day.  Just try.  It’ll get better.  “But I hate writing…” and the kids around him nod.  So many kids not considering themselves writers.  So many kids who write simply because school tells them to.  And I see it every time I assign a story project.  I see it when they write summaries of stories rather than an actual story.  I see it when they fiddle with their papers, break their pencils or write one line.  We hate writing, and there is nothing you can do about it.

And yet….writing is stories.  Writing is our past and our future.  Writing has the power to break us apart or put us together.  So when our students tell us that they hate writing, it is usually not the writing itself they hate, it is everything attached to it.  All of the tasks we add in with writing to make sure they know how to write.  To make sure they can write.  And I wonder, once again, in our eagerness to create students who can write are we, instead, producing students who won’t?

So what can we do within our writing instruction to reignite or protect the writer that lingers within each child?  What are ways we can help them see that writing is something we need as human beings, and not just because the teacher told us to?

We hear their truths.

Much like we must uncover what protects or demolishes their love of reading, we must ask the hard questions about writing too.  Why do you think you are not a writer?  When is writing hard?  When is writing amazing?  How can I be a better teacher of writing for you?  And then we take those truths with us, we unpack them and then we reflect on our teaching practices; what have we done that have done damage?  How can we navigate all of our requirements without doing irreparable harm?

We make it a priority.

I know we do a lot of writing but how much of that is process writing; summarizing, essays, analysis, informational writing.  Where is the creative writing?  I know when I taught 5th grade it was the final unit of the year.  If we got to it, that is.  Why not start with them finding their writer’s voice.  Tell them to write a story, either real or fictional.  and reconnect them with their storytelling skills.  Begin the year with free writing and maintain it throughout the year.  Don’t save it until the end of the year when we can have done so much damage already.

We give them time.

We cannot create writing opportunities in our classrooms without dedicated time.  And I don’t mean the writing instruction slot where they are working on their assigned project, but free writing time, where they are encouraged to write whatever they want.  Free writing time every day so that they get in the habit.  Free writing time so they can work through what it means to be a writer and start to see the small success that will carry them forward.  Whether it is ten solid minutes like it is in my Informational Studies class or even just four minutes like it was last year for me.  Time should be dedicated to free writing every single day, even if you only have 45-minute classes.

We give them freedom.

Every day we tell our kids to write something in their writer’s notebook.  We offer up a prompt but we also tell them they don’t have to use it.  And then we step back, encourage them to write, but nothing else.  This is about them, not us.

We tell stories.

Great writing starts with stories, so we tell our own stories and model what it means to capture an audience.  We have them share their own stories as they practice how to hold an audience captive.  We do speeches so they can see what grabs people’s attention and what doesn’t.  Through the stories we tell we encourage them to write someday, to find ideas for writing.

We withhold judgment.

Every few weeks I look through their writer’s notebooks just to get to know them.  I don’t assess, I don’t correct.  Instead, I write comments, genuine reactions to what they have written so they know I am reading.  But I do not tell them how to be a writer, not here, not now.  That writer’s journal is exactly that; a journal, not an assignment.  And so some write comics, others journal, some writ lengthy stories.  Poetry, scribbling, moments of their lives burst at me from their pages and I hope that within all of their ideas they start to see what writing really is; an extension of self, of who we are and an exploration of how we fit in.

We bring authors in.

Many of my students are under the impression that “real” writers knew they were writers from a young age.  That story ideas just come to them.  that they sit down and a whole book just flows from their fingers.  But that’s often not the case at all.  how do I know?  Because “real” writers have been speaking to my students via Skype for the last few years.  And they dispel their writing myths one at a time.  It turns out there is no one right writing process.  There is not a right way to write.  Inspiration comes from many places.  And it also turns out that writing is hard work.  That getting the idea is often the smallest part but the actual revising and cutting out and making better is where the work comes in.  They don’t believe me when I say these things always but when authors do, they start to.

We are real writers.

How many of us teach writing but don’t write ourselves?  How many of us create our modeled texts at home because we know it will be hard to do it on the spot in front of the kids?  How many of us would never consider ourselves writers but then expect our students to be?  Be a writer yourself, it doesn’t have to be published, but go through the process and do it authentically.  Share how hard writing is for you, share your bad habits of writing, give them a real role model of what writers are so they don’t think that it is something that just happens.

We ask them who they are as writers.

And we come back to the question throughout the year.  We ask them to explore what writing means to them.  We ask them what their writing process is and we share our own.  We ask them to find some sort of value in writing, not because they have to love it but because they should be at peace with it.

We have them lead the conversations.

Less checklists.  Less pre-determined goals only set by the teacher.  Less specific feedback that teaches them that this is the only thing they need to work on because that is all the teacher told them to work on.  More student reflection, more student questions, more student ownership over how they need to grow.  When we confer they should do most of the talking.  When we confer they should start to find out what they need our help with, not vice versa.  In the beginning, it is hard but it will never get easier if we don’t start the conversations and hand over the reigns.

We don’t give up.

Every day we write.  Every day we share stories.  Every day we create something.  Every day we become more than what we were.  And we don’t give up.  We hear their truths as we gently encourage them forward.  We showcase many kinds of writing.  We give them freedom, trust, and a safe space to share.  We tell them to share when they can and not when they don’t want to.  We tell them to use our space as writers would; get comfortable, listen to music, discover your writing process.  Find your writing peers so you have people you trust that will give you honest feedback.

For too long creative writing has taken a backseat to task writing and while I know we need to be able to write things that fulfill purposes, we cannot lose sight of the bigger picture here.  We have to give our students opportunities to have a relationship with writing that goes beyond what the teacher told them to do.  And that starts with the very decisions we make every day in our classrooms.  That starts right now.

 

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  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.

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A Simple Idea for Better Growth in Student Writing

For many years I have disliked grades and how they can affect the learning journey we are on.  In fact, I have disliked them so much that I dedicated an entire chapter in Passionate Learners about how to go almost grade-less, and yet, I work in a public school district that does do grades.   While my district is mostly standards based and rather progressive in its grading policy, the fact of the matter is that I still have to at some point quantify my students’ learning and assign them some sort of a number. No matter how much I detest this very thing.  And yet, having this expectation has actually allowed me to really embrace what grades can do for a conversation and how we, once again, can work within the confinements of a system and change the very conversation we are having.

One of my largest issues with grades is that it limits the very conversations we have with kids.  We end up letting the grades speak for us or we spend time leaving them feedback to only see kids do nothing with it.  And who can blame them?  If the grade has already been assigned then why should anything be taken to heart?

Therefore, I knew that I needed to change the very conversation we were having because I no longer wanted students to just ask how to get an A or a 3, especially in their writing.   I no longer wanted them to skip over their feedback and not really grow from it.  And while in my elementary classroom I was able to have a lot of time conferring with students, teaching 45-minute English classes meant that I had very little for the one-to-one.  And yet, the feedback is so very important because this is what changes the very conversation that we have with our students, especially when it comes to their writing.

So what did I change to create more meaningful learning opportunities where students actually used the feedback for something?  It is simple really, and I may be the last teacher to have figured this out but figured I would share it still.

Students turn in their rough draft a week before their due date.

Yup, that’s it.

Because my students now turn in their rough draft, I can leave them specific feedback and I also place our rubric in so they can see what they would be assessed at if this were their final draft.  They turn it in on a Friday, typically, I have it returned by Monday.  I leave them specific feedback, not “fix this…” but instead asking them questions about their writing and pointing out any significant areas of concerns.  They then get the next week to revise and resubmit.  They get the next week to ask questions.  I get the next week to confer with those that need more than just written feedback.

Does it work?  Yes!  As I assess their final writing pieces of the year, I can see just how much they have changed and refined since I left them feedback.  I can see how they have actually used the comments I have left them and have figured out how to grow their writing.  No more pointless feedback and no more feeling left out of the grading conversation.  Is it a lot of work?  Yes, I am not going to lie, but it is so worth it when it comes to seeing how they have grown as writers.  A bonus is that kids who tend to miss deadlines are now more on track since they know that they need to have a rough draft to turn in.

So there you have it, one small idea that goes a long way to give students more ownership not only over their final grades but also over the writing process itself.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

 

An Exploration Into Found Poetry

My students don’t love poetry.  I know this because when I told them we would be creating poetry, the cacophony of noise that erupted was not one of joy or happiness.  It sounded more like some of them were sick.

But this is exactly why I love teaching poetry in 7th grade.  It is a chance to rewrite and reclaim the whole notion of what poetry is.  To help students see that they too can create things with meaning without feeling like poetry is just one more thing they are not smart enough to produce.

So instead of “regular” poetry, we create found poetry.  Introduced to us by the amazing David Daniel, an actor who does a weeklong poetry workshop with us every year (the kids have no idea how much they will love it).  We create poetry out of words that were not made by us.  We make poetry out of our surroundings, out of noises, out of words found in books and on books.  And I see the change, I see the spirit with which kids embrace this task.  How they all of a sudden feel like poets.

What are the different components?

Video:

Every day we share a video of a spoken word poet, some of our favorites are – if you have others, please share them in the comments:

To This Day Project by Shane Koyzcan

Knock Knock by Daniel Beaty

What Kind of Asian Are You? by Alex Dang

Somewhere in America by Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin, and Zariya Allen

An Ode to Whataburger by Amir Safi

Why I Hate School But Love Education by Suli Breaks

Different Concepts:

There are many ways to create found poetry, here are a few of our favorites

Black-Out Poetry

Where students black the words out on pages of books, leaving only the words of their poem behind.  We use discarded library books for this.

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Found Words Poetry

Students search the classroom for words to fill out in a table on a piece of white paper.  Once they have filled all of their boxes, they cut them out, put them in the order they want and then glue them down.

Book Spine Poetry

Students create poetry using the titles of books, by stacking them on top of each other and then snapping a picture of their creations.  We shared them on social media using the hashtag #OMSreads

 

Collage Poetry (or Ransom Note poetry as the students coined it)

Using images and words from magazines, students cut out what they need and create a poem collage.

 

Conversation poetry

Send students to a busy area listening for sounds and snippets of conversations.  Write them down and then use them as lines in your poem.

Model poetry

Who says poetry needs words?  Using maker space materials create a visual poem that tells its stories using words or not.

There are many other ways of creating found poetry, if you have other ideas, share them in the comments.

While this may seem like just fun and games, it has been quite amazing to see the transformation.  We have also spoken about poetic terms that the students have been exposed to before, but may have forgotten.  This great word wall came from our 8th grade English teachers and help kids get reacquainted with terms they may either need or would like to be inspired by.

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So while my students didn’t love poetry in the beginning, and some might not still, many have realized that can be poets.  That poetry should make them feel something.  that poetry can be all around us.  I have loved this exploration so much.

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.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.

A Few Ideas to Teach Inference

My students have been discussing theme and how to analyze for it seemingly all year.  I have seen their growth, I have seen their understanding as they feel like they are mastering tough concepts.  I tell them that analyzing text is really just practice for being better human beings, for being able to read verbal and nonverbal cues in any given social situation and being able to navigate it successfully.  I am not sure they fully believe me, not yet anyway, but in order to help them understand that these skills are really human skills and not just something an English teacher wants them to do, our focus is shifting back to inference.  That skill that we have been teaching for years, that skill our students have been exploring for years.  I needed new ideas and here is what I came up with.

Using wordless picture books

I need my students to fully believe that you can read situations and text in many different ways and that how you understand something sometimes depends on the very lens you come with.  Wordless picture books put us all on an equal playing field, students are not tying their understanding into direct language decoding, but instead reading the pictures and filling in the gaps.  I love to see how different their ideas can be based on their background.

Using America’s Funniest Videos

Students, at times, forget how much inferring they already do throughout a day.  So I played a few clips from America’s Funniest Videos and stopped them before the “fail” happened.  Students used background knowledge, as well as reading the evidence in the video to try to guess what would happen.  We only watched about two minutes but it was hilarious and worth it.

Using “Whodunits”

I love a good “whodunit” story and gave groups of students the same story today to solve.  Could they figure out who the murderer and more importantly, back it up with the correct evidence?  I loved the way students dissected the text, tried on possible solutions, and then attempted to solve the mystery.

Using half a story, at first.

I love a great story with a twist and was delighted to be handed a great short story about a vampire today from one of my amazing co-teachers.  I plan on giving students the beginning half of the story and have them do a characterization of the main character together.  Then they will get the second half of the story which reveals that the main character is a vampire, clues were strewn throughout the first half, and we will now go back to find them.  This is a great lesson for kids to truly understand; sometimes we don’t know what we have missed until we have gone all the way through the text and then start over.

Asking them what happened.

Another great way to use stories with a twist is to ask them what actually happened, especially when the story is rather ambiguous.  I like when students have to wrestle with a text for awhile and can land on opposite sides and still both be right.  A story I have enjoyed using for this is the story My Dog by Kevin ONeall.

Using music videos without the sound.

Something we will be trying tomorrow is looking at music videos, I will be using ones from the 80’s, but without the sound playing.  I will play a minute or so of the video and see if they can figure out what type of song it is and what the lyrics might be about.     We shall see if they can come even close.  A fun one to use will be Meatloaf’s I Would Do Anything for Love or Bjork Human Behavior.

Using short movies.

I love the idea of using various media with students and so it makes sense to use a short film to ask them what happened.  This movie, Francis, is 7 minutes long and a little bit scary.  I cannot wait to see what the theories of my students will be when I ask them; what happened to Francis?

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  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.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

When They Still Just Hate to Write…

Our son Oskar hates writing, truly hates everything about it. From the holding of the pencil, to the forming of the letter, to the message itself; there is no love lost here.   Last week he was asked by his school to write his name on all twenty  Valentine’s day cards he will be handing out to his friend.  For a week this has been the ongoing conversation…

“Mom, this is like 100 cards, did you really count them?”
“Mom, I only have five friends, so I really only need to write five…”
“Mom, my friends know that I have a “K” in my name so I don’t need to write these letters…”
“Mom, I want to be a job that has no writing in it…”

Oskar is four years old.  I am truly not worried, not yet, after all, he is at the beginning of his writing journey.  Holding a pencil is hard work.  Forming letters that others can read is hard work.  Sticking with something more than five minutes is hard work.  Yet…

I see his words echoed by some of my students, my twelve and thirteen-year-olds.  Not just the boys, the girls too.  We hate writing, writing is hard, please don’t make us write. And they don’t, they fight me every step of the way.  They write something once and then never return to it.  They do not care that it doesn’t make sense, they do not care that words are misspelled, they do not care that their writing is sometimes terrifyingly simple.  There is no love for the fine art of writing because as they tell me, they will never be writers when they grow up.   So I wonder, what can we do to protect the love of writing and are we doing enough?  Are we offering students a chance to feel like writers rather than see it as something to just get through?

And I get it; how many adults identify as writers?  How many adults feel like they know how to write well?  How many teachers see themselves as writers who would quickly identify as readers?  Why is it that this incredible method of communication seems to have had all of the joy sucked right out of it?  So I wonder, what can we do to protect the love of writing and are we doing enough?  Are we offering students a chance to feel like writers rather than see it as something to just get through?

I know we preach about free choice in writing as if this simple change will fix anything, yet even when given free choice I have students who prefer not to.  Who would like the choice to be that they do not have to write.  So what else can we do beyond giving them time?  Giving them freedom?

We can speak to authors.

Through Skype we have had wonderful conversations with authors who have told us all about their writing process.  Not only has this given the students a deeper connection with the very books they read, but it has also given them a chance to realize that not every writer felt like a writer as a child.  That not every writer gets great ideas with no work behind them.  That writing is hard work and something that even those who have gotten a book published say they get frustrated by it.  This opportunity to speak to those who make it seem so easy has cemented lessons that I have tried to teach for years; writing is hard work, writing does not always come easy, and it is okay to doubt yourself as long as you don’t give up.

We can find out why.

I used to assume that I knew why my students didn’t like to write, after all, it seemed to almost always be the same reasons.  I stopped assuming several years ago when a child told me they hated to write because they did not want a peer to edit it.  They had not written a single word yet.  So now I ask, and we should all ask; what about it do you not like?  When did you start not liking it?  What has helped?  What has hurt?  What small steps can we do to make it better if even just a little bit?  Sometimes they don’t know, other times they do, but we don’t assume to know the answer, so we always ask.

We can sit in silence.

Too often we assume writing must commence the moment an assignment is given and yet those of us who do write regularly know how much writing happens before we actually write any sentences.  I need silence to write.  I need inspiration.  I need to find something that is worth writing about.  This is where free choice is so powerful in our writing curriculum, but so is wait-time, quiet, and a way to manipulate the learning environment to work for the individual.  My students know that when they write they are expected to make the room work for them, not the other way around, so they do.  And they sometimes stare into space for a really long time, but almost always, they finally start to write. And those that don’t?  Well, they are a conversation waiting to happen.

We can provide self-chosen support.  

I used to partner students up by need, by whatever skill they needed to work on.  Now I ask my students to please find a partner or two to work with as they process through their writing, rather than artificially pair them up.  Why?  Because sharing your writing is a vulnerable process.  Sharing your writing and asking someone for feedback can make or break future writing.  Because when I write I self-select those that will see my unfinished work so that I know that they are judging the work and not me.

We can give breaks.

Writing is hard work.  Even as 7th graders, some of my students do not have the stamina to do writing well for more than fifteen minutes.  That is ok, as long as we are aware of it.  For my most ardent non-writers we try to give breaks, sometimes through conferencing, but others time just a movement or water break, so they can shake their hands, clear their minds, and recapture the energy they were feeling before.

We can be honest.

I speak about my own writing process with my students as we explore our writing lives.  I speak of the frustration, of how hard it can be to receive criticism, of how I get in writing slumps, how I seek out inspiration.  I tell them that there are millions of ways to write, that none of them are perfect, but that what matters is that they find their own path.  That they experiment, that they explore, that they do not give up even when they are certain that writing will never be anything they actually will need for anything.  I ask for their concerns and complaints, they share their needs so that I can try to adapt the writing curriculum to fit their needs.

We can make it matter.  

My students rarely write in isolation.  Their bigger projects almost always extend beyond the classroom to make a difference in the lives of others.  To make a mark in the world around them.  Sharing our writing globally has helped some students realize the direct impact that their words can have on others.  Giving them tools such as blogging or simply sharing through Google docs, have made them realize that what they write can matter to others beyond our classroom walls.  That their opinion may shape the opinion of someone else.  That what they write may provoke an emotion in others.  It is not the ultimate solution, there are still children who fight me, who fight themselves, every step of the way.  But it’s a start.  It is a way to try to make writing seen as something important, rather than just something we do in school, never to be applied to the real world.

When Oskar finished his twenty Valentine’s Day cards tonight, they were a bit of a mess.  The “O’s” looked pretty good but everything else was illegible.  He had a smile on his face and so we gathered them up and put them in his backpack.  We have a long way ahead of us yet for him to like writing more.  We picked our battle tonight, knowing that if we had asked him to re-do them all, the damage to his already strained relationship with writing would have been significant.  Perhaps this is my last advice for tonight then, spoken more to myself than others; one battle at a time.  One hurdle at a time.  Small successes matter, even if we haven’t completely changed a child’s mind just yet.  As they say in Denmark; mange bække små gør en stor å.”

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  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.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

 

Are We Creating Writing Communities?

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I swore after Passionate Learners 2nd edition came out that I would not write any more books.  That it would be a long time before I wrote anything else besides on this blog because who did I think I was?  Why did I feel that I had anything at all to write and give to others?  Yet, sometimes opportunities arise that we cannot say no to, where we wake up with this little idea in our head and then all of a sudden it turns into a bigger thought and we find ourselves questioning, and pondering, and then writing in our mind at all times until we know that perhaps there is a book in there somewhere.

I said yes to those ideas and now find myself writing two separate books, with the same deadline of May 30th, within the same realm (literacy), and I have been pulling my hair out trying to find just the right words, to make it worth anyone’s time, to make it fresh, and I must admit; it has been an excruciatingly hard process.  Sleepless nights, frustrations, and imposter syndrome has haunted me for the past few months.  It has not been pretty, and yet, within the process of writing, I have uncovered a few realizations of what our students must face when they write, of how frustrated they must feel at times when we tell them to just write, to just create, to just get something down and do this assignment so we can assess them.  These realizations are causing me to question the very process that we use when we teach writing and ponder how we can make it better.  How we can make it work for every child and not just those that already seem to have figured this writing thing out.  Because I don’t think I am doing enough to really teach real writing, so these are my driving questions.

Do we know who our students are as writers?  Do they?  Is there time within our curriculum to really get to know students, and also for them to get know themselves better, so that what they write is meaningful to them.  And not just when they write a personal narrative, but is there a personal lens of the world present in some way in anything they write?  Can we see the individual in the assignment or are they all the same?  My struggle has been to stay true to myself while still adapting to the purpose, to write a book that feels like my book and not just a poor imitation of other people’s work.  Are we allowing our students to infuse their writing with their own personal essence or do they even know who they are as writers to do this?

Do we allow them ownership over the process?  I do not follow a linear path when I write and never have.  Yet, in our classrooms we often expect students to follow the same path and move along at the same pace.  This does not lead to more authentic writing, nor does it lead to most students even identifying as writers.  So why do we keep doing it?  Do we discover, discuss, and reflect on each other’s writing processes?  Do we find beauty within the varied ways that students create while still exposing them to many styles?

Do students understand the purpose of the writing?  One of my largest struggles has been that my purpose for one book kept shifting, that what started as one idea morphed into another and it shows in the disjointed chapters and unclear thoughts.  Do we allow time for students to just think of what they are trying to create, not just the how? Do we plan time to discuss and dissect the why as a community?  Do we give them time to sketch out or discuss or create in such a way that they are not committing themselves to a product just yet, but instead feel like they can explore various options, even when we have curriculum to teach and content to cover?

Do we edit with kindness?  I have faced reviews and edits where only flaws were discussed, all in the spirit of fixing my mistakes, yet it wears you down.  After a while it plants doubt as to your own writing ability and these doubts can soon create writers block.  When we edit with students do we know what we need to protect?  Do we know what is most important to them?  Do we speak genuinely of their strengths or get right to the parts that need fixing?  Are there parts that we leave alone because in the grand scheme of things it may not be important?

Do we set up time for them to be immersed?  The only reason any book is being written is because I have scheduled it in every single night (30 minutes at least).  I find comfort within the routine and also a determination to finish the draft.  Every night I make progress, even when it is painful, yet in our classrooms we are so dictated by our schedule and timelines that we often push students to create, to produce, just so we can move on. How do we give students time to explore and write every day when we are faced with the constraint of 45 minutes and so much to learn?

Do we encourage writing partnerships?  My mother edits my work and my friends discuss ideas with me.  Writing can be a vulnerable process so do we allow students to self-select writing peers within our community?   Do we give them the time and flexibility to use each other as writing partners, and not in a conscripted way, but in a way that works for them?

Do we create room for their emotions?  There have been nights of wringing my hands over the computer trying to find just the right words where only the assurance of my husband that I am not a fool for trying to write has helped me come back to the dreaded process.  Where I have had to take a deep breath and realize that the reason these books weigh so much in my life is because I care deeply about their message.  That within my emotional reaction to the process is evidence of its importance.  Do we create writing communities where students are encouraged to become emotionally attached to what they create or do we simply not have time?  Do we encourage them to use those emotions as a way to fuel their writing and their own self-discovery?

I still have a hard time calling myself a writer, even with 3 books published and more than 1300 blog posts written.  I still feel like a fraud every time I tell someone that I write, almost as if the title has not been earned just yet, and don’t get me started about considering myself an author, I am long way from that one.  So how do our students feel in our writing communities?  Do we embrace and discover the whole process of what it means to write, to be a writer, and use it as a strength when we develop our craft or do we skip over it as we try to get students to write?  Are we truly creating communities of writers or do we just teach writing?  There is a huge difference.  The choice is ours.

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, 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 seethis page.