I’ve been putting off doing this for a while now. There have been plenty of excuses, lots of distractions, and a fair bit of procrastination in the meantime. There are a few things that have brought my attention back to this site, and particularly to the idea of blogging. One is that I’ve been really enjoying some of the writing products that have come out of the classroom activities we’ve been doing lately. (I teach a Grade 6/7 class this year – 18 boys, 10 girls). Another is the excitement building as I collaborate with a group of colleagues over upcoming Family Literacy Day celebrations we’re planning. And thirdly, I have a few speaking engagements on the horizon that I’m revising content for in anticipation of the conferences I will be attending in the next few months.
I wanted to start off the blog with some profound declarations that would change the way people thought about writing instruction and about teaching boys. Every time I try to come up with something profound, I draw a blank. So I’ve abandoned that idea and decided that I’d just start the blog, see if there’s an audience for it, and follow where it leads me. If you’ve read this far, I hope you will consider joining the adventure and contribute to the conversation.
I remember when I first started preparing to present my “Show! Don’t Tell” workshop, a workshop that has consistently gotten positive feedback and is really the foundation for all the writing workshops that I present. I remember the nervousness as I tried to determine what to include and how to address my audience. I worried that people would resent me for “telling them what to do.” It was early in my career, and I figured that more experienced teachers would reject and criticize my “unseasoned” advice. It wasn’t until I changed my thinking and decided that it wasn’t about giving advice, but rather about sharing the experiences I’d had and demonstrating the results that I had got with my students, that I could feel comfortable stepping into my role as a presenter. I will attempt to follow that philosophy as I share things here in this space. The intention is that it will be a place to share experiences (some of the triumphant ones as well as the frustrations). I’ll try to refer you to some of the resources that I have found influential (both in my curricular teaching and in meeting the needs of boys in today’s classrooms). I’ll try to make this a forum where people can question, share stories, collaborate, and commiserate over the challenges and celebrations that go along with this multifaceted job of being an educator.
I provide the following for your consideration. It stems from a community night that we hosted at our school. We invited parents to come (with their students) and participate in what we referred to as a writing event. In conjunction with our school goals, we thought it was helpful to provide parents with some context and additional understandings about the kind of writing we were asking students to do in classrooms throughout the school. We felt it would be valuable in engaging parents as partners if we could establish some key understandings about writing. The following is what we hoped would set the context for conversations about writing.
Setting the Stage for Conversations With Your Child About Writing
Engaging in conversations with your children about writing has the potential to profoundly influence their attitudes about writing and help them to develop their skills. Giving some specific and supportive feedback to a piece of writing can help them develop a willingness to revise and revisit what they have drafted and to participate meaningfully in the writing process.
Here are some things that we know about writing:
1) If you can talk about it, you can write it.
An important part of the writing process is the pre-writing process. Having your child talk about the topics they plan to write about helps to give them a foundation. If they have already thought about the topic, they are better able to transfer the ideas from “inside their heads” onto paper or into a computer. Asking specific questions can help them recall or invent details to make the writing more detailed and descriptive. Conversations, webs, or brainstorms can help a writer select a worthy topic to write about. Students who have difficulty writing can sketch pictures or storyboards of what they want to write about which can give them the foundation to then develop the description and action to enable them to write.
2) Writing is a very complex task.
Writing is probably one of the most complicated, multi-tasking activities we ask children to do. It requires a writer to invent, process and organize thoughts inside his or her head, to transfer ideas on to paper, to recognize and apply proper spelling rules, to use proper punctuation and grammatical structures, to draft, organize and sequence information in text, and to be aware of the purpose and audience of the piece of writing they are drafting. Having children focus on one particular aspect (or a small, manageable set of aspects) allows them to really develop that particular skill without the task feeling overwhelming. This allows them to experience success in increments and, as they master some of the skills, they are better able to perform the necessary steps to complete powerful, informative pieces of text.
3) Writing is a process.
One of the scariest objects for a writer is the blank page. It is important for students to be aware that getting content down is the key to developing a meaningful piece of writing. It is important to get ideas down. They can be extended, elaborated, reorganized, re-sequenced, re-invented later. Though spelling and punctuation are important, the emphasis on proper spelling and grammar shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with the process of outputting material and creating a draft that can be revisited. Typically, authors spend more time on pre-writing strategies or activities (i.e. planning what they will write about or developing an outline), and re-writing activities (editing, revising, proof-reading, checking for clarity) than in the actual writing of a piece.
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