How do we spend the limited time we are given to teach our writers?

I am participating in #SOL21. Thanks for this space to write, read, and grow!

The world is changing so quickly, and kids are changing, too!  Everywhere, kids walk with iPhones and iPads in hand. Neighborhoods are quiet outside – no jump rope rhymes crying out into the air (My mother is a butcher, my father cuts the meat, and I’m a little hotdog running down the street. How many hotdogs can you eat?), no kickball games, no hula hoops twirling or pogo sticks bouncing up and down.  We all worry that perhaps technology has lured our children away like the Pied Piper – to some place that is not visible to us – where our children have been captured by the magic of the screen and all its imagination.  Our newest generation, Gen Alpha, has had screens placed in front of them from the youngest age as pacifiers, babysitters, and educational aids. This great screen age in which we are all living on Zoom, Google Meet, Twitter, Instagram, You Tube, TEDx talks, and TikTok has the biggest impacts on the generation exposed to such screen saturation during their formative years. From shorter attention spans to the gamification of education, from increased digital literacy to impaired social formation, these times impact all of us in some way but transform those in their formative years. Generation Alpha began the year the iPad was launched, Instagram was created, and App was the word of the year. But what about the imagination of our children?   Are they losing the ability to imagine and create something brand new?

We want our students to be independent and empowered readers, writers, and thinkers. We want them to be able to listen keenly, revise their thinking, take risks, and try new strategies and new avenues. How can we do this? We know our kids aren’t reading and writing enough. Some years ago, at Millersville University’s Summer Institute, Lester Laminack cautioned us that we are dangerously close to losing the imagination of our children.  Listening closely to our students’ needs and figuring out ways to respond to those needs through the work we do in our classrooms is crucial. We must bring joy and passion into our classrooms. Ralph Fletcher’s book, Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing, talked about how we can do this.

When we ask teachers what is their biggest obstacle, they often say “Time!”  Indeed, the time to fit everything in and do a good job with writing workshop is our greatest challenge.  There is no way to remove this obstacle from our daily challenges, so we must, as Rudyard Kipling tells us in his poem “If”,  fill the “unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run…”  Perhaps the best way to do this is to begin with a set of questions:

  • How are we currently spending the limited time we are given?
  • How can we revise the way we spend our time in workshop to be more effective/productive?
  • Is this the right lesson for these students right now (a question we can ask ourselves daily)?
  • Is this learning experience worthy of the time it will take us to do it right?
  • Is there another way – a better way – to approach this concept/learning?
  • What is essential here? Important to know? Necessary to learn as a stepping stone to the next concept/skill?
  • How can we give students more opportunities to write? To have choice? To truly own their process?

We show our student writers what we value by what we make time for in our writing workshop and across the day. Motivating writers starts with giving writers interesting things to read and write about and building in choice as often as possible. Simply, we can motivate our young writers by doing the following:

  • Give them high-interest topics to choose from..
  • Provide lots of opportunities to write without grading everything.
  • Provide real world audiences as often as possible.
  • Start small – build their writing muscles by asking them to write descriptions, observations, anecdotes, riddles, snippets of conversation.
  • Use mentor texts to help them imitate the authors and take risks.
  • Write alongside your students – be an integral part of the writing community (teacher as writer).
  • Provide ongoing and immediate feedback.
  • Give students opportunities to write and write again – increasing the volume is one of the most important things you can do!

We can overcome the stresses of our current education scene—if we slow down and dare to use the time to re-imagine the work we do in writing workshop. Interest is key. We honor interest by giving students choices. We need to find joy in words, pictures, and books that engage students while we build writers and readers. Let’s not always tell our students what to think about. Let’s give our students plenty of opportunities to explore their thinking. Let them write, and let them write often, because writing is the most powerful thinking tool that we can offer our students.