For the past six days, I’ve worked with an amazing group of teachers making revisions to our writing curriculum. The dedication and passion these men and women brought to this work made my job of facilitating much easier. I feel good about what we accomplished and know that these teachers all feel prepared to launch the writing workshop in their classrooms next week.
We still have so much work to do, but thanks to the Units of Study developed by Lucy Calkins and her colleagues at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, we have a good grasp of the process and new expectations. Everyone is excited for school to start so we can begin working with students and help them become capable, confident writers.
Teachers often ask me about the purpose of the writer’s notebook. They are uncomfortable with the idea of letting kids write about a self-selected topic. They want to know what they’re supposed to do with this writing. Do they grade it? Does it have to become a story or some other kind of a polished piece. I always explain that no, this writing is not graded. It doesn’t necessarily have to become something else.
Because of these questions and the discomfort some of them have with writing itself, I began our work days by giving the teachers time to write. Some days I offered a photograph or piece of art; some days I shared one of Corbett Harrison’s Sacred Writing Time slides. It was interesting to watch how the teachers reacted to the prompts and how they worked. (I did write, also.) But the real revelations came when the teachers shared their writing.
Everyone had approached the task from a different angle, an angle that was meaningful to them. Some were surprised by the direction their writing took. Others were grateful for the opportunity to sit quietly and be reflective after a hectic morning trying to get to school by eight o’clock. We talked about the importance of giving our students choices about their writing and about the importance of feeling comfortable enough to share our work. We all agreed that going through this process ourselves would help us as we guide our students in the weeks to come.
The most valuable insight for me came from what I wrote this morning. Harrison’s slides always include whatever “National” day it is. Today happened to be National Radio Day. This made me remember a record album of old time radio programs that my mother used to listen to when I was little. Like links in a chain, this thought led to other ideas, which led me to an insight about a character in a story I’ve been writing this summer. This cascade of memories reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from Ratatouille, when Anton Ego takes his first bite of the dish Remy and Colette have lovingly prepared for him.
Why wouldn’t we want our students to have this same kind of opportunity to see where their writing takes them? Who knows what they might discover about themselves?