Q&A Students as Authors & Critics

We celebrated the end of the Narrative UoS on Wednesday.  We prepared for the celebration by having students create informational cards (a nice way to begin to bridge for the Informational UoS) with their author bio and a brief synopsis of their writing.  We setup students’ published pieces in a gallery setup – and got ready for visiting classrooms to come in and do a kind of critique of the finished pieces.  Then we would switch so that all writers would get a turn being the author and the critic.   Their jobs were two-fold depending on the room (were you an author or a critic):

  • Critics: Choice! Read the synopsis and decide if this piece of writing was interesting for you. Be prepared to ask meaningful questions around the writing process and the author’s motivation. An important observation noted was how students were making personal connections to pieces. This experience opened pathways for rich dialogue around their own stories. This means students made deep connections that sparked “What if” kind of thinking.  It was evident that this experience made the writing process come alive with relevancy.  Students were eager to share their thinking and it was all done with a spirit of kindness and generosity.
  • Authors: Critical Thinking!  Be ready to share their process and to guide the discussion by the critic’s remarks. We often talk about how important it is for student writers to be flexible in real time.  They had to respond to their audience which might challenge the original intention for their written pieces   Active responses from the readers generated those meaningful connections that drew out conversations in ways that could not be anticipated.

This celebration was inspired by Mo Willems’ Q&A session we attended during Teacher’s College Saturday Reunion.  As we reflect something really interesting happened.  When Mo answered our questions we played very specific roles – author/teacher.  When students shared their writing they were united by the writing process. Even when students played the role as “critic” they did so with an author’s lens.    The result was that their dialogue was rich and insightful.  Don’t get us wrong Mo Willems was inspired!  He captivated the audience and kept us all engaged.  He made us think but from a distance.   While his work provided context – it was his personal stories of traveling, parenting, or being a student that generated the most interaction from his audience.  What does this mean to our future writing work?  We have to wary of students working at the literal level – coming up and reading their stories aloud as the big celebration.  It has to go deep – we have to ascend to higher levels of critical thinking.  We do this work through dialogue and shared experience.  Creating a reflective group of students becomes their habit of mind.  It comes with an expectation that we will be thinking about the choices made and that there is an expectation put on the receiver of stories that there will be some kind of response.  Let’s have great conversations every day.

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