The first twelve weeks of school have been a roller coaster in the War Eagle Writing Studio. I’ll share more about our struggles and successes in a blog post I’ll publish this weekend, but over the last few days I’m observing signs that my students are growing as writers. This week we’ve been inquiring into”Where I’m From” poems with mentor texts and “noticings” activities (another blog post in the making); we began working on our brainstorming list for ideas with a graphic organizer on Wednesday, and most students began drafting yesterday or today.
I’ve been struck by how so many students, especially my 6th and 7th graders, have been writing with a very deliberate and noticeable intention and purpose the last few days. I began thinking about the parallels of intention and process in art studio work and writing studio work after my friend and fellow teaching colleague Dorsey Sammataro (did I mention how amazing she is?) showed me a video in early September created by one of her AP Art Studio students, Megan Dammann:
In our writing conferences and observations I’ve made of students thinking and writing over the last two days, I’ve been struck by how focused and invested students have been in their writing. There is a new intensity I’m seeing as they think and write. Many students now are talking about their writing process, what they are thinking about in their current drafts, and/or next drafts instead of merely asking if their draft “is good” when they talk to me about their work. They also seem more responsive to my questioning I’m doing in our writing conferences (thank you Carl Anderson) as I try to ask them questions to prompt their thinking rather than tell them what I think. Our writing conferences are starting to shift to conversations about process and decision-making by students; they have never been about how I would suggest they “fix” anything, but I see students now are starting to articulate their own thinking more clearly and in deeper ways.
How do you assess and capture intention and process with your writers? How do you celebrate that and make it more visible in your classroom? I would love to hear what others are doing.
One class in particular, my 4th period group of 7th grade writers, has been especially invested in the poetry unit we’ve been doing for the last six weeks. Earlier this week, they were asking about doing another poetry reading. Today our principal, Jennifer Kogod, dropped in to visit and took time to chat with every writer and read his/her work. As a teacher, nothing thrilled your heart like having a principal who is a literacy advocate who interacts with the students; for the students, her presence clearly conveyed to them that our principal genuinely cares about their work. As we continued to conference and draft the last half of class, two of my male students said, “I wish I could stay in here and work on my poems the rest of the day!” One asked if he could get permission from his last period teacher to come and work in my room; I told him I would email her and that if he had completed all his work and she was fine with the request, I was fine for him to join my last class of the day which is a 6th grade section of writing workshop. The other student wanted to know if he could come in before school and work on his poems!
I KNOW, RIGHT?!?!
The class then wanted to do an impromptu poetry reading, so that we did. The two students, Ben and Ryland, shared their drafts in progress. Ben then asked me if I could text the video I made of him reading his poem to his mother (and I did). His 6th period teacher graciously agreed to let him join us, and he helped me kick off my class by reading his poem in progress to my 6th graders.
I cannot tell you what this kind of cross-grade pollination does to a teacher’s heart—I literally felt like we were all soaring as he shared his draft, his advice for my 6th grade writers, and how he went about the process of getting his first draft composed. How amazing is this kind of participatory learning where the novices become the experts and share that expertise they are growing? He then worked on his poem for a little while before breaking off to conference with 6th grade writers and serve as a writing buddy to listen to drafts and share glows and grows to those writers.
I am sure we’ll move and back along this continuum of growth throughout the year, but I feel like I’m seeing many of my students finally start to turn an important corner as writers and learners. I am seeing my students to think more deeply about process and to work with more intention. I can’t measure any of this growth with a test, and I need better ways of documenting that though I’m still figuring that out. All of my classes were so engaged in their writing—-today is the first day I can truly say that about every single section–all six of them—and it is truly music to my ears. It’s the kind of day I thought about all summer as I looked forward to returning to the classroom and this opportunity to teach writing all day. I’m excited to be part of this journey as a teacher AND a learner with my students, and I can’t wait to see where we go next together. The fact I’m sharing this with you on a Friday night probably speaks to how epic of an experience the last few days have been. Welcome to BELIEVELAND!