Sunday, September 15, 2013

Teachers Write In Action - Free Writing

The summer is over and Teachers Write has officially ended but this year I've been able to share my writing and the writing process with a group of 8th graders and I want to share how awesome it has been so far! 

Teachers Write is about teachers as writers. Teacher writers know what it's like to brainstorm and draft and to feel all the emotions that go along with every up and down throughout the writing process. Being able to share those feelings, let kids know that they aren't alone and give them specific ways to work through the process is the best feeling. It was pretty great to hold up the first draft of my novel and to show these 8th graders how many pages I had written and to let them see how messy those pages are with my notes for revising. Anyone who has written anything and been brave enough to share it with someone else has probably felt at least some teeny tiny vulnerability...if not a lot of of it. I believe showing students that I didn't just write a book, print it out and get it published was important. I could honestly share with them that the writing process is what real writers do and show them the proof of my process. 

I was so excited to introduce them to free writing as a way to brainstorm and gather ideas and to dive into the writing process. Based on the surveys we asked them to fill out, most of these students didn't see themselves as writers when school started. A few wrote that spelling was the hardest part about writing. It was awesome to tell them about free writing and explain that they don't have to worry about spelling, periods, commas, capitals, complete sentences when they free write. We laughed when I asked them if a teacher ever told them not to worry about those things when writing. None of them had had that experience. It was like all of the scary vanished from the room at that moment. 

Holding up my draft marked up with all the revision notes, I told them that a writer has to write something that's not great...I may have used the word garbage...before he or she can revise it and make it better. I went over six free-writing rules with them. Then I modeled free writing for two minutes and then their teacher modeled free writing. We let them come up with topics for us to write about to add some fun to it. And then -  believe it or not, hold onto your seats, brace yourself - they were asking to actually do it themselves. They were ready. Since then, they free write everyday and call it Sacred Writing Time. Their teacher gives them a prompt but lets them choose a different topic if they want. They have been increasing the amount of time they spend free writing and are up to writing for three minutes now. As we have conferenced with students, some have mentioned that they really enjoy the free writing time and that it has helped them to not feel stuck trying to find something to write about. It's pretty awesome to hear!

Teachers write is based on the idea that teachers should be walking the walk when it comes to writing. We need to truly be writers who work through the writing process if we are going to support students. I was reviewing John Hattie's findings in Visible Learning for Teachers and noticed that teacher credibility is near the top of the list of key factors that have a high impact on student achievement. This is what we have been saying about Teachers Write this whole time! If teachers are going to be seen as credible when it comes to writing, then being a writer and knowing the process from a writer's perspective is imperative. I believe that showing these students my writing and that even I have an indecipherable planning board, sloppy first drafts and even messier second drafts had something to do with how easily they jumped into free writing and accepted it as being part of the process. I'm so excited to see how they continue to embrace the process as the year goes on.

Whether you participated in Teachers Write this summer or last summer or not, how has the start of the year been with writing for you? I would love to hear how you start off the year or how you introduce students to the writing process.

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