by Jill DeRosa
My writing identity is something I lived a long time without. Until I was in my thirties, writing for me was a task to complete; a report for school, a reaction paper, a letter to a parent. My writing was driven by something I needed to accomplish for my job, my school, or for my family. Writing was not enjoyable for me, it was always done with a purpose that was driven by outside forces. I did not see myself as a writer. Not for one minute.
It wasn’t until I became friends with, Jenn Hayhurst. She is a writer who knows how powerful our words can be. She is not afraid to take risks and put her ideas on paper and into the world. She says we have ideas to share with the world and asks if I would be willing to write alongside her. I am afraid because I don’t see myself as a writer. I am confident in my ability to teach but writing about it is a totally different thing. Jenn is supportive and I decide to give it a try, starting out small. As we write together, I start to see a change in me. I am a writer. I just needed to write about things that mattered to me. I needed to write for myself first and then for my audience. My writing had to be sparked by things I cared about and wanted to share.
I take my writing experiences with me into my classroom each and every day. Do I provide time for my students to find their writing identities? How do I make room in our curriculum to provide room for choice in writing and tools? In classrooms, I often see teachers facing a similar dilemma; when we are writing in a certain mode or in a unit of study, how can we make room for authentic writing that is sparked by what matters to our students. We need to make the time, this is the place where our students will find their identities; writing alongside partners or in groups, creating comics, writing series about characters they have created, writing informational pieces about gross insects or dangerous animals. Nothing makes me happier than looking around my classroom and seeing kids fully engaged in writing that matters to them knowing that their words are powerful and can make a difference. Students bringing in writing they have done at home or bring their writing to recess because they just can’t stop writing; it is a part of who they are.
It is through a friendship and a deep appreciation for writing that my writing identity was formed. It’s never too late to find yours.
Inspiration Sparks A Plan:
Teachers’ College offers two Reunion days per year. This is a time for us like minded educators to come together for a kind of salon only on a colossal scale. This free day of learning, offers access to their current thinking and leaves us all feeling very inspired. In March, Jill attended the Teachers College Reunion Day and amongst the many take aways, one idea really resonated with us. It was demonstrated during a writing workshop presented by Mary Ann Ehrenworth focusing on persuasive essays. Children were being taught to write in a more artful way – not merely following an organizational script first I write the lead, then I write the… Instead, children wrote from a place of engagement, writing different elements of their essay as they were moved to do so -they were not in a fixed order. After all elements were written,children made important decisions as they evaluated how to move the elements around to see which organization was most powerful.
Readers, if you follow our blog, then it’s obvious that this was something Jill just had to try with her third graders! Our new UoS is Persuasive Speeches and after much thought, we found a way to test this technique out. We chose the following elements for the children to include in their speeches and then when all elements are completed, they will try different ways of organizing them, test them out on their peers, and decide on the most powerful one for their speech. We can’t wait to see the results.
Planning & Implementation:
The thinking is that students will choose from this list of elements to write about just in the same way Ehrenworth described during her presentation. Here are the elements we will focus on in our minilessons:
- State bold opinion (thesis)
- Posing questions for your audience (craft)
- Reasons for your opinion- We began by having a dialogue about different issues in the world that really get us thinking and bring out our emotions. We then brainstormed a list of issues that really matter to us. Next, we took a trip to the computer lab and each child had time to research the different topics that interested them. We did it this way to bring in both the narratives the children shared and connected to on the first day and the informational piece they researched in the computer lab. Finally, they were given the chance to write down their reasons as they started to plan and brainstorm about their topic.
- Narrative stories to support (elaboration)
- Information/Facts/statistics to support (elaboration)
- Word choice- catch phrases, figurative language, strong words, emotions (persuade craft)
- Visual representation/props (Text Feature to teach & persuade)
- Organization- last since we are using this new technique
Final Thoughts (for now):
The goal is for students to see that modes of writing are like tools in their boxes. Promoting the understanding that an author’s intention is what moves a reader to action. As writers they need to construct each part as if they were guiding readers along a path of their own making. Their decisions to use narrative here to make connections, or to use informational here to amaze, and then, very strategically, to follow up with opinion so readers will believe.