Monday, March 30, 2015

Becoming a Writer

I had the opportunity to attend a 2-week summer workshop offered by the Illinois Writing Project called IWP-SLI (Illinois Writing Project, Summer Leadership Institute) in July 2014. It was life changing for me as a person and a writer.

The first week consisted of exploring ourselves and our teaching styles through the writing process. We spent the afternoons that first week just writing and sharing. It was powerful. I went home energized, but exhausted everyday. I had so many ideas, I couldn't write fast enough. I then decided I needed to use my laptop to keep up with the abundance of ideas. I had never viewed myself as a creative writer before. But after this workshop, I started to.

In my blog post, Building Confidence in Writing, I shared a piece I had written during the first week. We were to pick a place that was a favorite of our to visit. I chose a store called Cracker Jax. The words flowed out. We were not necessarily to go back and edit, we were just letting our thoughts flow as we thought about this place. That piece is an unedited piece. Would I change it? Maybe, maybe not. The point I'm trying to make is that, as writers, we have to be allowed to write without having the conventions weigh heavily on our minds. That comes later. Should we teach students to edit? Absolutely. However, getting the ideas down first is priority. Using the IWP-SLI as a guide, this is how I structure this lesson with my students:

1st Day
  • Choose a topic (teacher or students depending on your goal for this assignment. I will choose the topic "Close to Home" that was suggested during IWP-SLI.)
  • Free write--give a time limit of about 20 minutes. Too much time can be frustrating for students, and too little can hinder a student's creativity--especially if s/he needs time to come up with a topic (if you haven't assigned one).
  • Share your written piece. I like this part for a couple of reasons: 1. It allows the student the freedom to present the written piece how s/he intended it to be shared. 2. Most importantly, the teacher or the other students are not looking at the writing. They are LISTENING. This is just as important a skill as the writing itself.
2nd Day
  • Have the students get into small groups to allow brainstorming ideas to continue the writing. This is where the cheer-leading happens. The students need to know what they did right.
  • Go back and re-work the piece or choose another piece of writing to edit. It is OK to have a number of stories at a time to work on. I had read once that Stephen King has many started manuscripts that he leaves until he is ready to revisit the piece. Sometimes I think the draft needs to marinate before we can actually give it the oomph it needs.
  • When students feel that they have reworked the writing to almost the publishing point, conference with the students in a one-on-one session which will happen day 3.
3rd Day
  • Allow the students to either start a new writing topic or revisit an older one to begin to rework.
  • While your students are doing that, choose one student at a time and set a time limit with each. Try to structure your time efficiently so that you can get quick, but quality time with each student.
    • When the students approach your desk, ask the students what their favorite part was of the writing process.
    • Ask them what they need guidance on--they may have writer's block.
    • And most importantly, as far as I'm concerned, ask the students what they want you to look at in their writing. These are the choices I give:
      • Spelling
      • Punctuation/Capitalization
      • Subject/verb agreement
      • How to proceed to the next step
        • Many kids will say, "Check all of it." It is important for them to become comfortable spotting areas they need help on. That way, they will become better editors themselves. 
        • If we give too much feedback, it becomes overwhelming, and the process is no longer fun.
Remember, this map to writing needs to feel safe for all students. We all are at different levels in our writing. I have been told throughout the years that my writing at times has not been up to par. I allowed those comments to stifle my creativity. I write like no one else. I write like me. We have to allow our students to do the same.

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