In her book, Creating Writers, Spandel notes that most of the modeling that was done for us (now, teachers of writers) “…involved assigning, collecting, and correcting writing.” We saw our teachers manage and assess writing, but we did not get to experience teachers who wrote, shared, or revised in front of us. We were not privy to their writing processes. I grew up in a time that emphasized product over process. Maybe that’s why I didn’t really learn a lot about how to grow as a writer until I came to the Pennsylvania Writing Project housed in West Chester University.
One of the things that helped me the most was reading myriad professional books. Bruce Morgan (2005) models writing by gathering students in his “Oval Office” where he sits in a comfortable chair with all the materials he needs at his fingertips: chart stand, chart paper, markers of different colors, and picture books (mentor texts, I would guess). He gathers his writers together in this manner because he believes it “…strengthens the community” and helps him monitor students’ engagement and attentiveness. Students gather here daily to observe him modeling writing while he thinks aloud. He talks about his process – the things that are going right, the things he is struggling with, and where he’s stuck. He will ask students for help, and their responses help him assess their understanding. Morgan has high hopes for his students.
If we set high expectations, we are also saying to students, “I believe in you.” I often try to take a risk in front of my students. I want them to see me struggle…to see me live a writerly life. During this modeling time, I expect students to give me 100% of their attention – to “listen with both ears” and to notice what I am doing and how I problem solve. Often, I make the modeling time an interactive time because it is more engaging for my students.
Regie Routman (2005) writes: “If you have never written in front of your students before, take the plunge; they will appreciate your risk taking, and you will have a much clearer idea of what you are actually asking them to do.”
Morgan (2005) writes: “We write to capture our lives, and that’s what our students need to see us model.”
Spandel reminds us that writing comes from who we are. So it makes sense, then, that modeling must begin with sharing a bit of ourselves and what interests us. We need to let our students see who we are first, and how that translates into what we write!
If you have not written in front of your students, try it out. You may want to write down some key words or phrases as a reminder if you feel uncomfortable drafting on the spot. At first, you may actually write a draft during your prep period or after school. Then, when you write for your students, don’t look at the draft. It’s okay if you add some new details or omit some things you originally included. It is a very freeing experience. When you share your writing with students, you become an integral part of the writing community. You will find that students view you differently, with the respect that comes from knowing that you walk your talk, that you are a teacher of writers who writes!