I just finished reading Joy Write, by Ralph Fletcher and am in love with it. I would recommend it to every writing teacher. Even if you don’t agree with all he talks about – he makes you think, reflect, and wonder. In this short book, Ralph managed to get me to shout “yes this is what we need” over and over and over. He got me to reflect on my current and past writing instruction. He got me to question. I put down this book thinking “this is what we need. How will I make this happen?” I’m not totally sure yet, but I know I will find a way.
I’ve been teaching for 15 years and my favorite time of the day is Writing Workshop. I remember my first year teaching kindergarten in the Bronx – I was skeptical. Can my kindergarteners really be writers? My mentor led one writing workshop while I observed – I was sold and never looked back. Yes kindergarteners are writers – all kids are writers.
Reflecting on my Writing Workshop – I now teach 1st grade, am still a believer in the Writing Workshop, and writing remains my favorite subject to teach. But, I think I may have been letting the joy of writing slip away a bit. I think I may have been teaching more formulas – more unit plan than joyful writing. I think I may have been having them too focused on editing and publishing and the end product. I think this may have blocked their voice from emerging. I think I may have forgotten how important studying mentor texts are. I think I may have been over focused on curriculum calendars and units of study. I’m not sure why this happened. Was it because of the curriculum calendars and scripted unit plans? Was it because I just have more learning and growing to do? Was it because I never considered myself a writer? Was it because I never experienced the joy of writing myself? (well until the March Slice of life challenge!)
I think the answer is yes to all of those questions. And now I want to apologize to all of my past kiddos for letting the joyfulness go to the side a bit. Yes, there is a definitely possibility that my kiddos didn’t know the difference and still had fun writing. They definitely still wrote and wrote and wrote and would groan when Writing Workshop was over. But kindergarten writing and first grade writing is in many ways naturally fun (for most kids). They’re drawing pictures and writing words and creating stories, poems, or informational pieces. Their pieces weren’t graded in the way older grade children’s writing may be graded. We celebrated our published pieces, and I told them they were writers. There’s still some revising to do to my writing instruction but luckily during this school year, I began some of my revision of teaching writing.
Here’s how my road to revising my teaching of writing began…This past summer I was part of a curriculum writing team. I was one of two people who wrote a procedural writing unit for our first graders. Writing this unit, and spending time with good mentor texts for this unit is what jump started my revision. I realized that I wasn’t using mentor texts enough. I wasn’t highlighting the craft moves. We weren’t reading as writers. This When I taught this unit earlier in this school year, I made sure to read the mentor texts to the kids first as readers, then as writers. We pointed out the techniques we saw the authors use, and then the kids went off and wrote. They experimented with craft techniques. They used the texts as mentors in so many ways. They laughed while writing. They couldn’t wait to share their ideas. They smiled and you could feel the joy in the room. It was contagious! To quote Ralph from Joy Write, I “cut ’em lose, and let ’em write.” Of course I taught mini-lessons, taught strategy groups, and had conferences. But this time, I let them do more writing first, rather than jump in to the mini-lessons that were written on the unit plan. I let them drive my instruction, rather than the scripted unit plan (which I was a writer of) – Duh, right?!
We need more of the writing Fletcher writes about in Joy Write. We need a balance between curriculum units of study and low-stakes writing. We want our kids to feel like writers – to be writers. We want them to know that writing isn’t just producing narrative pieces, or informational pieces, or opinion pieces. Writing is more than that. Writing is a process. It’s personal. It’s a way to communicate, to express ourselves, and let our personalities show. Writing lets us think, create, and figure things out. Writing is so many things and it can be full of joy.
Let’s do what Ralph Fletcher suggests in his book – “cut ’em lose, and let ’em write!”