I had the good fortune to participate in a fantastic #engchat on Twitter this week. How We Write: Learning from the Process of Writing with Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, Joining in were Meeno Rami, Georgia Heard and countless other educators with thought provoking tweets. What made this chat so meaningful was that it wasn’t just about student writing, but encompassed teacher writing as well. It really got me thinking about teachers and writers in a more profound way.
“You can’t call yourself a writing teacher if you are not writing yourself. “-Donald Graves
Occasionally I run into teachers who claim “I’m not much of a reader.” Luckily that is a pretty rare occurrence. In fact, the teachers in our district (Augusta, Maine) even have a 25 Book Challenge club going for the second half of the school year. We have conversations about books we love (or hate) and recommend books to one another based upon our knowledge of teachers preferences as readers. We created a Facebook page to stay linked and up to date with our progress. It has created a community around reading. We feel connected to other readers, we can appreciate what reading means in our lives and we share that passion with our students.
Now shift the conversation to writing…the declaration “I’m not much of a writer.” is something I hear teachers say all the time. Maybe we need to look more closely at why this is so prevalent. More importantly, I believe, we need to examine the question, “Does it matter?” Does our lack of confidence in our own writing influence our approach writing instruction? Does it shape how we respond and coach students to grow in their own writing? Does the perception of our own abilities reflect in the perception of our students’ abilities? How could it not? Our reality is shaped by the prism of experience and beliefs through which we see our world.
When we are writers we can empathize with the act of putting our thoughts, ideas, and words on paper and waiting for a reader to judge their quality. We can experience the vulnerability of receiving feedback that may be less than beaming praise. We can understand how sometimes the ideas don’t flow, the right words don’t come, or the moments don’t explode the way we want them to.
When we are writers we can appreciate how much stamina it takes to stick with a piece you are sick of rereading. We can see how someone’s’ “suggestion” just sounds like criticism. We can see that coming up with ideas isn’t as simple as making a list of things we like.
When we are writers with our students we can make that mysterious process more visible. We can show our students that not everything that is written is good (yet)! We can show students the moves a writer makes; the countless decisions that are made on the fly in the creation of even a single sentence. We can show them the intention that is present in word choices, line breaks, sentence length, punctuation, repetitions, alliteration, figurative language, etc. We can show them how WE struggle, how all writers struggle from time to time. We can help to build GRIT into the writing process.
When we are writers we can appreciate the joy that comes from completing a strong piece of writing. We can understand what it feels like to hear people laugh at the parts that are supposed to be funny or cringe at the parts that are supposed to be creepy. When we are writers we can experience the feeling of satisfaction when our revised pieces really do look and sound better after our efforts. When we are writers with our students we can celebrate those successes together.
When we are writers we can help our students to trust the process, to trust us. We can provide instruction and not just instructions. When we do the same writing assignment we ask of our students, we can better see where those scaffolds might need to be created, what parts might be trickiest, where more patience might be required. When we take risks in front of them, they may have more faith that we really do honor risk taking. Our credibility as a writing teacher takes on a whole new meaning. We build stronger relationships with our students that go beyond the writing lesson.
If we aren’t writers ourselves how can we do this? Do you believe what Donald Graves said? “You can’t call yourself a writing teacher if you are not writing yourself.”
One tweet from Penny Kittle provoked some thinking about the environment in our schools around writing.
So how CAN we work to make writing safer for everyone at school? How can we encourage teachers of writing to become writing teachers? How do we create a climate that supports writing and risk taking? I’m sure there is no one right way, but I am sure it will require someone to be the impetus. Someone will need to ask the question, “Do you think writing teachers should be writers?” Someone will need to reach out to teachers to start the conversation. Someone will need to take the lead in sharing their writing life with others. Someone will need to listen to their concerns and anxieties. Someone will need to suggest some ideas. Will you be that someone?
If you are interested in learning about what some other teachers are doing you could check out:
The 100 Words for 100 Days #engchat Challenge
TeachersWrite! with a new date for 2014 from Kate Messner
The National Writing Project (NWP)
I’d love to hear how you are supporting writing in your schools and making it a safer place for writing to thrive. Leave a comment or find me LitCoachLady on Twitter.
What’s On My Book Radar
The Place My Words Are Looking For is not new, but when Georgia Heard recommended it during the #engchat I knew I had to get my hands on it. If you have ever wanted some insight into what poets thought process, inspiration or method for writing might look like, you need to check out this book. 39 poets share poems and their process. What a great book to tie into the theme of teachers as writers. We can learn so much from these authors as they teach us about writing and allow us a peek into their literate minds.
HAPPY READING (and WRITING!)