The need to write

“When you are writing your stories, write for yourself”

-Katherine Applegate.

I have had a bit of a writers block this week. A lot going on and trying to narrow my focus into a single topic seemed impossible. Then two night ago we went to listen to Katherine Applegate speak. She spoke about hope, she spoke about the need to have empathy for others and to leave the world a better place than we are in right now. She also spoke about the importance of writing. Not writing for an audience like we hear about so much, but to write for ourselves, to write about what we like. To write OUR stories.

This has stuck with me. I have worked so hard the last few years to learn, to better my practice. I try to spread that enthusiasm among my students and colleagues. To me discovering something new (maybe only to me) is a thrill. The possibilities of new learning for my students, new ways to engage them and new ways to help support my coworkers is exciting.

I started #ProjectSpeak 4 weeks ago now. Most students are finishing up their opinion essays, one decided they would rather write from an informative stance. Some have started curating research links, videos and documents on their Padlets to serve as a form of text sets to help inform others on their topics, this week we will be looking at creating our own visuals to help present our topics. Some will create infographics, others might make collages or other multimedia pieces and then in a few short weeks we create Ted Talks or Podcasts to spread their message and share their voice. I am happy about how things are going and the kids seem to be engaged more than the traditional lessons in writing that we were doing. Again we are writing for ourselves, about what we care about.

My grade 7 class is working on personal narratives and so we are working on “My story” different elements in a first attempt at a multi genre project. We are reflecting in different ways, working with poetry and creating visual elements. Again our writing is focusing on us and the success continues to grow. Less time trying to convince kids to write and more time conferencing, more time laughing about their stories, their reflections. The real words of their life. Writing their stories.

Authenticity is the key to success in literacy. If we want students to enjoy reading we need to treat them like authentic readers. Give them time to read, give them choice in their reading and give them authentic opportunities to share. Spoiler alert that isn’t a book report including a title page and author biography (yup I can still remember my days in Junior High). If we want them to be writers we should respect them the same way. Less convoluted narratives based on some picture prompt and more choice. Less structure. There are times, of course, that required writing is necessary . But authenticity can still be the goal. Writing with authentic purpose is the key to working in the writing forms that students will encounter in their life outside the creative writing unit. Project proposals, grant applications, business letters, instructional essays, How-to guides. All of these options can be utilized in projects that are based on student interests and meet the objectives and outcomes presented in curriculum.

Choice should not be a buzz word. I imagine a school when choice is exactly that. A place where students can decide what their educational experience looks like. A student who loves reading and creative writing can choose that LA class, one that is more interested in technical writing to go along with their interests in PBL and related topics have that option to attend. Logistically I am not sure where we go. However, as I have continued to explore voice and choice this year, as I have shared ideas with coworkers on how we can tie literacy work into their Social Studies, and Science classes I have realized at times we are just exchanging one model for another and slapping a choice label on it.

I wonder what would happen if we really let our students write their own stories in our school. If choice really meant choice and it wasn’t a practice in simply providing a second option. As I begin breaking in to “We Got This” by Cornelius Minor the idea of truly listening to our students is already coming through.

Are we listening to their stories or are we writing them?

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