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Monday morning. My students charge into our classroom, intent on setting up their writing museums: sports and sailing paraphernalia jockey with posters of DNA helixes and NJ Transit schedules. There is an air of excitement as my kiddos cast one last glance over their writing pieces ( each student wrote four genres of their choice on topics of their choice), adjusting their displays and checking for missed typos.
Students responsible for greeting parents and putting up our invitational posters scurry around and get into position. It’s show time: our multi genre writing celebration!
Parents begin to file in, and my kiddos attend to their “meet and greets”, settling parent into their seats and then beginning their presentations: what did writing workshop look like this year? what genres did we study? what did it feel like to be a sixth grade writer? I watched as each student made their presentation, marveling at their confidence and humor – but, especially, at the message that came through each time: we are writers, and today is all about celebrating that. Soon, parents were invited to read, as our favorite jazz music played in the background (the soundtrack of our writing lives this past month):
And, just like that, another writing year came to a joyous close.
My teaching life take aways:
Choice matters: My kids wrote about topics that were close to their hearts. Sometimes, this meant a leap of faith for me – is a sixth grader capable of writing knowledgeably about DNA? or meaningfully about chewing gum? The answer is a resounding “yes!”…with a bit of direction, some reorientation, and a lot of faith.
“Teach the writer not the writing”: If memory serves me, this was a Lucy Calkins bit of wisdom, and it is so very true. Each of my 41 students presented themselves as individual writers with unique needs. Each had their own take on memoir or poetry or anything else, and I had to find a way to teach the genre without losing each kiddos voice. It’s hard work, inexact, sometimes fraught with frustration, but worth it – my kids now see themselves as writers. That’s the aim of writing workshop, after all.
Audience matters: There is always something special about inviting parents to read the work of a class. I believe parents need to see what writing workshop is all about, we teachers need their buy in about the importance of daily writing, and learning the habits of the writing process – there is so much about the workshop model that seems invisible and unknowable to outsiders. The writing process, with its many multi layered steps, needs to be made visible in order for parents to understand its complexity, its worthiness of time and effort. Most of all, my kids were primed for an audience beyond just their classmates, they had worked all year towards this public forum: parents other than their own reading their work. The bar was set higher, but they were ready. They were, actually, excited about sharing their writing.
It was a glorious day! All that work was so very worth it!