Saturday, March 31, 2018

Lessons from Writing: It Takes a Community #sol18 week 4

For the month of March, I participated in the Slice of Life Challenge on my other blog:  Merely Day by Day.  Writing every day isn't easy, and I've learned some lessons I want to remember when I sit beside young writers.  Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for pushing me to be a teacher who writes, and helping to grow my reflections.

Today is the last day of Two Writing Teachers' Slice of Life Challenge.  For 31 days, a community of at least 300 participants have come together to share their story, support and learn from one another, and grow as writers.  Writing every day isn't easy so, at the beginning of the challenge, I made a list of tips and tricks I had learned in past years that might help me when things got tricky.  This year I found the rhythm of the process to be essential.  My process went something like this:  find a possible slice, spin it in my head (sometimes this was a voice recording and sometimes a quick jot), write it early in the morning, let it sit and gel.  The next morning I would edit, revise, and hit the publish button.  I was really writing two posts a day:  one "final" copy and one draft.

While the routine was certainly essential, it was the community that made all of the difference.  Here's why:

The community commitment kept me writing each day.  I knew this was a community that would write each day so I felt I also had to write each day not doing so would have let the community down.  I suppose it's like having an exercise buddy or an accountability partner, it just always seemed like the right thing to do.

The community opened my eyes to new possibility.  In reading the work of other writers, I discovered new crafting techniques and could envision new possibilities.  Sometimes the writing of others served as a mentor text.  Other times, I discovered new ways with words.  At times, I really was made aware of the power of the clarity of message.  Each stop to read the work of another writer taught me something.

The community helped me to find my voice.  Putting writing out into the world each day is a bit of a stretch.  As community members stopped by to comment, I learned what worked for my audience.  Their comments helped me to see the parts of my writing where I had captured their attention.  Starting to learn what works for an audience, in combination with daily writing, helped me to find my comfort zone in writing.

The community cheered me on.  The effort made by the community really helped me to continue to write.  A few years ago, I wrote about the types of comments people leave on a blog.  Just hearing that people often shared in my experience in some way, affirmed my point, or noted a part of the writing that spoke to them, kept me going.

The community connected me beyond my daily world.  Having a writing community that connected beyond my daily world broadened my experience.  It amplified the possibility in writing and discovering the power of the message.

Being a part of a writing community helped me to grow as a writer but, most importantly, it kept me in the chair each day.  It showed me the power of possibility and connected me with other writers who understand the struggle and the small victories.  Each year we grow and nurture our writing community so that across the year we can learn from another.  Each day of our workshop, we carefully stitch together new conversations that connect and lift our writers.  We find ways to help our writers reach out into the world to learn from other writers.

If you want to think more about how writers support one another, check out this video lesson from Ruth Ayres.

Lessons from Writing (other lessons from #sol18)


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Lessons from Writing: That Piece Isn't There Yet #sol18 week 3

For the month of March, I'm participating in the Slice of Life Challenge on my other blog:  Merely Day by Day.  Writing every day isn't easy, and I'm learning some lessons I want to remember when I sit beside young writers.  Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for pushing me to be a teacher who writes, and helping to grow my reflections.

I've been writing with the community of Two Writing Teachers for the month of March.




Writing every day certainly makes me think a lot about what I ask of writers in my classroom, and maybe what I should do differently.  After 25 days of writing, I've been surprised to not find myself in crisis over what I will write about this year.  I seem to have found a rhythm that works, and I've just been plugging away.  It's probably the gift of our writing workshops; knowing you're going to write every single day (and the challenge).

Though I've been able to write every day, most days I publish my pieces knowing they aren't quite there yet.  After twenty-five days of posting, there's hardly a piece that I wouldn't go back to and try to rework.  You see, I know why each piece isn't there yet.  I'm not always sure how to get it there, but I can detect the parts of each post that work --- and those that don't quite make it.

That makes me wonder, do we ask our students, "Is your piece of writing where you want it?  Is it there yet?"  I'm going to guess that if asked, most of our writers could tell us the part of their writing that works, the new things they've tried, AND the parts that aren't quite there yet.  Instead, we often show them parts we think aren't there yet.  We require particular types of revision and lament that students don't make enough changes to their pieces.

As I get ready to write for the final week of March, I wonder what would happen if we just asked writers, "What works in this piece of writing?  What isn't quite there yet?".  Then, after a bit of conversation, perhaps the next question is, "Are you moving on or going back to try to strengthen the piece?".  Either way, the writer has learned something to carry forward.

As Georgia Heard reminds, "Revision is seeing and reseeing our words and practicing strategies that make a difference in our writing."

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Lessons from Writing: 5 Questions to Help Young Writers Find Their Own Process #sol18 week 2

For the month of March, I'm participating in the Slice of Life Challenge on my other blog:  Merely Day by Day.  Writing every day isn't easy, and I'm learning some lessons I want to remember when I sit beside young writers.  Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for pushing me to be a teacher who writes, and helping to grow my reflections.

These lines caught my attention as I visited Mandy Robek's post, Fumbling, on day 2 of the Slice of Life Challenge:
"I think I've learned the benefits of using my notebook during the day, along the way.  It's a spot to hold my thoughts until I can embrace them with intention."                                  - Mandy Robek, Enjoy and Embrace Writing
As I read posts from other writers during the Slice of Life Challenge, it isn't uncommon to see a participant write about the challenges they are facing.  There are the days the idea bucket is empty.  There are days our writing goes out into the world without the polish we would like it to have.  There are days when the voice of the writing doesn't feel quite right or the craft doesn't seem to take the message to the place we'd like it to go.

It isn't uncommon to hear someone write about their process.  Participants in the event talk about where they get their ideas, crafting techniques they've discovered, new types of writing they're trying, or the way they're playing with words.  It's not uncommon to read posts about participants' favorite writing spaces, times, or tools.

This is my seventh year participating in the challenge to write 31 days, but this might be the first year I have felt I've found a rhythm to this writing.  This year, I've decided to write my posts the day before I post them.  I get up at about 5:30 in the morning, reread the post I started the previous day, complete some quick revisions, and then post it for the day.  I then spend some time drafting the post for the following day.  This habitual rhythm has certainly helped me to feel less overwhelmed by the requirements of writing every day.

Mandy talks about using her notebook to collect ideas during the day.  She finds this helpful in her writing.  I, too, love a notebook, but I find that I never have it with me.  This year, when an idea strikes, I either go into Blogger and start the post with a quick five-minute write or I open voice recorder to record my idea at the moment it hits.  Most often, ideas come in the day when I don't have time to write so voice recorder has really come in handy.

As I interact within the writing communities I belong, I've learned that everyone has their process.  I love to listen to people share their process as it often helps me to reflect and to be more intentional in my own way of writing.

Helping Young Writers Find Their Process
As I listen to adult writers talk about their work, I can't help but think about the young writers we are shaping.  Do we allow students the opportunities to find their own their process or do we assign the process?  Do we allow students to find their writing territories or do we tell them what they will write about?  Do we acknowledge that the writing can be hard or do we expect perfection in every piece?  Do we allow students to find the structure and craft of each piece of writing or do we give them formulas for completion?

Here are some questions for helping young writers find their process and rhythm as writers:

  1. Where do writers find their ideas?  This is a little different than what do writers write about.  This talks about memories, books, conversations, daily events, and maybe some good eavesdropping.  
  2. How do you collect your ideas?  Often we're in the middle of a piece of writing when we get an idea for another piece of writing.  How do we capture those ideas before they are gone?  Writers do this in a variety of ways, especially now that we have digital possibilities.  Of course, the notebook is still a favorite for writers.  Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has a site called Sharing Our Notebooks that is full of possibility to share with students.  
  3. How do you grow your ideas?  This is a topic often shaped by opportunities and challenges.  Some people sketch, some web, some research, some list.  These possibilities are often driven by purpose.  Additionally, when do you revise?  Some writers revise as they work; others work to get the idea onto paper and then return for revision.  How do you strengthen your lines and words?  
  4. Where do you like to write?  During a school day, young writers have very little say in where they write, but that doesn't mean they can't make some decisions about their spaces.  Providing alternate seating, allowing writers to write on the floor, creating quiet spaces, and maybe even just pulling out a picture and a favorite pen can help to create an atmosphere for writing.  Additionally, digital spaces may allow writers to carry their reading beyond the school day and write in their favorite spaces at home.  
  5. How will you use your time as a writer?  In classrooms, having a regular daily time to write is essential.  If young writers know they will have time to write each day, they can begin to collect ideas.  Writing every day is essential, but isn't always easy.  Allowing writers to be in different stages of the process, knowing the process is not linear, and understanding that writers may take a short break from a piece to grow a burning idea all provide flexibility for the writer. 
Young writers need the opportunity to find their own process.  If we truly want our writers to write with purpose, to develop their voice, to utilize craft, to move their audience, we have to let them write.  

Lessons From Writing Series

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Learning from Writing: You Should Write About That #sol18 Week 1

For the month of March I'm participating in the Slice of Life Challenge on my other blog:  Merely Day by Day.  Writing every day isn't easy, and I'm learning some lessons I want to remember when I sit beside young writers.  Thanks to the team at Two Writing Teachers for pushing me to be a teacher who writes, and helping to grow my reflections.

"Your next post should be about the loss of bookstores," Clare commented on my Slice of Life post, A Familiar Pattern, about the pattern of malls closing.

A few days later she returned to another post, Start a Contribution List, asking, "What's a Passion Planner™?  Can you slice about that?" 

I've appreciated her comments.  I've kept these little nuggets tucked in the back of my mind knowing when I need an idea to continue my goal to write every single day this month, I'll have a few ideas to use for my post.  

In my first grade classroom, one of my favorite things to do was greet students at the door.  Students always entered first thing in the morning full of stories, and I was the story catcher.  My students would share tales of losing teeth, learning to ride a bike, or going someplace special.  They'd share stories of friends, new experiences, and funny things that had happened to them.  Of course, I'd listen intently and then say, "You should write about that.  That would be a great story for writer's workshop."  The more reluctant the writer, the more deeply I listened - and the more animated my reaction.    

Even among my friends who have blogs, it isn't uncommon to hear one of us say to another, "You should write about that."  It's like a gift when that happens.  It's not always easy to see our stories we might share.

There's power in having someone say, "You should write that."  

Writing every single day isn't easy, but having someone to help shine light on your stories makes it a little more possible.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Are You All In?

As educators and leaders, we often find ourselves running from one thing to another.  For classroom teachers, there's a myriad of responsibilities.  In addition to day-to-day teaching and preparation, there are team meetings, parent emails, and collection of resources for students.  Educators working as instructional coaches, administrators, and other roles supporting classrooms, can find themselves bouncing from place to place, teacher to teacher, team to team and student to student.  It can be easy, and perhaps somewhat understandable, to find our minds on the next thing, especially in collaborative conversations.

It's not uncommon for me to sit in a meeting, team conversation, or learning opportunity to see people with their phones out, answering emails on their computers, or being distracted by thinking beyond the moment.  In today's world, people can multitask between devices in a meeting, but we all know engaged multitasking looks different than disengaged multitasking.

In my role as our district's literacy instructional leader, I am in a myriad of meetings across the day.  One of the things I work hard to do is to be all in.  Whether I am in a data team meeting with a team of teachers, professional learning community conversations with a group, a planning meeting with district leadership, or a book talk with a student book club, I am trying to train myself to be all in.  That means I am listening, making sense of their ideas, and trying to work toward new understandings beside the people I am with at the time.

Too often we become distracted by the buzzes, bleeps, and notifications of our devices.  We easily disengage from conversations to think about the next thing on our calendars.  This can leave the people we are sitting beside feeling like they are not valued.

The next time you grab your phone, open up your email, or find yourself a million miles from the conversation.  Ask yourself, "Am I all in?".