This year I have been working on ways to make writing more engaging. When I talk to my students every year their biggest complaint about Language Arts classes past are having to write “too many” stories, writing stories based off stupid prompts and having to write about things they don’t care about. This year I decided to take next steps and follow the lead my students were laying out. At this point in the year we have not written any fictional pieces of writing. I don’t know if I am endorsing that as practice but it is leading to less resistance to writing. We are also still writing stories but they are our stories. We might have a general theme or idea but students are writing their stories and experiences to start.
When we do mini lessons to address writing skills we look at their stories. When we work on editing it is with their stories. By focusing on their experiences I am finding that we are worried less about “having an idea” and can work more on enhancing the work.
I am a huge fan of Kelly Gallaghers Write Like This, I love that the model Kelly provides talks about types of writing purposes but does not tell students specifically what to write about. I work through the books examples with the kids and some years that is our where the bulk of their writing comes from. A few of each type. The kids don’t get burned out on writing and we avoid the main complaints. In the book however Kelly provides a template for a planning tool that takes the next step in choice writing. Students pick a topic and then explore the different purposes of writing with this topic in mind.
I was always nervous to take this next step, partly because I was unsure my Junior High writers could /would be able to tackle the task. The first time trying to generate their own topics was a massive success. I modelled with both Volleyball (the book example) and Weight Lifting (my own). Student topics ranged from Dirt Biking to Hunting. Most wrote about their favourite sport and all the topics that could be generated from this main idea.
As we continue to work towards writing independence we explore what interests us. I am finding that I am getting better and better writing from my students and we are then applying those learned writing habits and skills to the canned writing we unfortunately must complete but the task does not seem as harrowing. We are not seeing as many walls around our writing because as we write more we knock those walls down.