Where to begin? That is the question that many teachers ask when the discussion of WRITING commences at the grade level team’s table. Then panic closely follows. You get the idea.
I believe that WRITING is the most powerful skill an individual can possess; yet WRITING receives the least amount of instruction in the classroom and in most student teacher’s preparatory classes. Why, you ask? Great question. For this reason, I feel that most people feel inadequate when WRITING, because their experiences with WRITING have been minimal. A second reason involves a writer sharing his/her insights, feelings, thoughts. Sharing about oneself is extremely personal. A large percentage of people are uncomfortable sharing in a classroom format about themselves, unless they desire to do so.
Another reason, I believe, is the largest factor – WRITING is messy. WRITING is not linear. Asking a five year-old to write when he/she does not know the alphabet or letter sounds is impossible. Katie Wood Ray shares, “Even with the youngest writers, students ‘write’ about what they know, however their first stories will be in picture form. Since it takes some time for students to become fluent and proficient with transcription (putting words down on paper), the ability to represent meaning in illustrations makes so much more possible for beginning writers.” That is our starting point – inviting students to share what they know – in pictures. Just last week, a kindergartner informed me that he needed help writing “cause I don’t know my letters.” I then asked him about his picture (a heart) and he clearly explained that it was indeed a heart and he wanted me to help him spell it. Being helpful, I asked him what sound heart started with…h,h,h,…..to which he replied…”if I knew that I wouldn’t need your help.” Wow, he was spot on!!
Young students are excited to write and share with others, yet somehow writing transforms into a chore for them. Drudgery. We instruct students to respond to a prompt…a prompt that we give them. We have good intentions, believing that a prompt will help students get started. This given prompt leaves students without any choice. Removing the students’ decision-making, leaving them to “write” about a topic that they might not have any experience with or understanding of the specified topic.
What is the answer? Allow students to make decisions and make choices. Our job is to set up a structure so that students can write and share their stories and their knowledge. This structure begins with a mini-lesson, teaching students a strategy, actively engaging with a partner, then transitioning to write independently. At the end of the session, students share. This structure’s name: Writer’s Workshop. Teachers plan small chunks to teach on a daily basis, one lesson building on the previous lesson, and students revise their pieces through partner input. During a unit of study, students have choice and complete ownership, exactly as a writer should. Writing is no longer drudgery, but a time of excitement and celebration.