October 1st, 2015
“Someone in another state really read my blog?”
“I got a comment from a real expert! How’d you do that?”
“You’re like our agent, Miss. You’re my number one promoter.”
For the last five weeks, my students have been working towards publishing an op-ed. We read examples that I provided by writers who I admire. They found more samples on topics that interested them. I teach in the workshop style, studying the hallmarks of a genre and then asking students to write in the genre on a topic that they choose.
My model looks like this:
This doesn’t look that different from traditional writing workshop classrooms. But there are a few important differences that make the cycle even more meaningful to me and to my students.
We brainstorm and ideate in a pretty traditional way, except that they publish their ideas on their blog as they think and explore. Instead of traditional writer’s notebooks (which I’ve also had great success with), my students participate in a series of small writing tasks to explore ideas – these tasks can take the form of poetry, listing, group brainstorming, short pieces, all published and open for feedback from peers, teachers and other readers. This takes the notebook that used to be the sole possession of the writer and opens up the thinking process to the community. The feedback loop opens the writer’s eyes to new ideas as they both receive feedback on their own thinking and look at and examine the thinking of others.
Next comes the pitch. When it comes time to settle on an idea to write about, I ask my students to both put that idea down in writing and to verbalize it to others. Sometimes we do it speed dating style, sometimes as whole class presentations, sometimes as small groups. But however the pitch day looks in my class, the main idea is to have to talk through the idea with an audience. To listen to how it sounds outside of their own heads. Sometimes they realize they have a great plan. Sometimes they realize it doesn’t sound fully fleshed out, or they aren’t as passionate as they first thought. Talking about it makes the idea real.
What follows is reading in the genre and writing drafts. The more reading and writing they do, the better their product. My class composes in google docs so that I can see the progress and offer feedback as they work. In the end, this saves me time on grading since I am constantly reading their work, I get to know it well, and it also leads to much better products.
Here’s where it really gets fun, though. When I was in school and when I first started teaching, “publishing” in the writing process meant handing your final draft in to the teacher and waiting for a grade. Today, for my students, publishing means hitting the publish button on their blogs and waiting for readers, comments and shares. This changes everything.
This week, our first publishing week, was one of the best of my career. My students hit publish on their amazing work, I took to social media to share it (with their permission) and the readers came. I am lucky to have an amazing group of colleagues, friends, an online PLN that always comes through and fellow bloggers who understand what a comment can mean to a writer. My students came in later in the week and were beyond excited to tell me that they had gotten comments from people they’d never met, from experts in the fields they’d written about, from other teachers, from students they’ve never met. Good comments pushed their thinking and made them feel like writers, not simply students.
One student’s piece resonated so much with her audience – teachers – that a school in Kansas shared it with all of their first year teachers. As I discussed that with the student, we both got chills and were nearly in tears. What does that validation mean to a young writer? So much more than the good grade I gave her. She won’t remember what score her writing received, but she sure will remember the time she shared a message about racism in education and people she’d never met read it and shared it and started talking because of it.
While my classroom might look in some ways like a traditional writing workshop classroom, hitting the publish button throughout the process – and especially at the end – makes all the difference.