Friday, September 20, 2013

Developing a Writing Life that Intersects Teaching and Learning

The world is busy, but the mind tenacious.
The writing life is all about faith in a fragment.
Kim Stafford

Writing is an art form that moves your consciousness to paper. It is the process by which you reveal your inner self while splashing your thoughts across the page. It starts as a glimmer of an idea, a seed that sprouts in the quiet corners of your mind, and takes form when the muse beckons you. Writing can be an arrangement of free thoughts or an on demand task. It can be a messy synthesis of ideas or an elegant rewrite. With faith, the writing process allows thoughts to germinate, grow, and give voice to a learning life.

For me, writing has evolved since my days of grammar school. Thinking of myself as a budding writer at the early age of eight, I fashioned a marble notebook into a chapter book. Being enamored by the crafted stories of the fictional lives of the Bobbsey Twins and so mesmerized by their antics, I penned my own version of the series. No one guided me on the journey. There was no mention of writer’s journals or mentor texts to study the art form of writing. I wrote because I loved books and wanted to be expressive. As I moved through school, writing became personal and led to many introspective moments. My thoughts often came in quick spurts, not hampered by time or restrictions. I frequently revisited pieces to revise and refine before making them ready for public eyes. By the time college was nearing to a close, I was deeply entrenched in a writing life. 

Lately, I have been pondering how I can assist learners with the act of developing their own writing lives, as the Common Core requires. The anchor standard for NYS Writing Standard 4: Production and Distribution of Writing, states: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. This statement has charted the course for my writing life and helped guide my teaching practices. Now, as a consultant, I would like to transfer my passion for writing to educators as they explore the art of writing with their students. 

Engaging writers in the act of pre-writing is a first step. The protocol, Chalk Talk, is a tool that I use for it provides an avenue to reflect, write, and have a conversation in silence.  To begin the process, I post a quote from an inspirational literary luminary, such as Don Murray. “Most writers write in the early morning before the world intrudes. They harvest the product of their subconscious.” Or, I pose a question to start the conversation regarding teaching and learning. The quote or prompt (as seen in the picture above) guides the Chalk Talk discussion as it radiates out from the middle of chart paper. Approximately five teachers to a group, with markers in hand, write a response anywhere on the page. They respond to their peers' responses or start a new thought. The facilitator interjects comments on the chart paper and so the process progresses in silence for five minutes. Watching the reactions of teachers to the Chalk Talk protocol is very interesting. Some jump right in and start to write. Others are hesitant but move into the flow of conversation as they see peers busily engaging in the silent conversation. Jotting down ideas that come to mind give purpose and breath to new thoughts. This process helps writers to define their thoughts and promotes communication. Debriefing time can provide a lens for learners, noting that writing proceeds from a single thought or a series of thoughts and can be developed into a cohesive piece if explored in depth.

Wordle and Tagxedo are other tools that allow writers to engage in a reflective process and create end products, word clouds with texts. They provide an avenue for writers to explore the power of words in a visual form. With these fun tools, writing becomes a continual process of growing thoughts. Connecting technology with the learning process creates a motivating environment for learners.

Another way to create the appropriate writing environment to generate thoughts is to reference notable figures in the field and provide snippets of their texts. This provides insight into what a writing life is about and leads to the exploration of the writing process through authors' lives. Showcasing Ralph Fletcher's, "A Writer's Notebook," frames the use of the journal as a personal writing resource. Providing staff with titles of books from personal writing libraries showcases authors of merit, such as, Carl Anderson, Amy Benjamin, Katherine Bomer, Lucy Calkins, Ruth Culham, Penny Kittle, Katie Wood Ray, Linda Rief, and Laura Robb. Pausing to reflect about encounters with the beloved Donald Graves and the celebratory writing session for Don Murray at the NCTE Convention several years ago personalizes the writing experience. National writing figures and authors need to be portrayed as real people with successes and struggles who produce because they are disciplined, observant, and persevere in their endeavors to connect pen to paper in a steady stream of harvestable thoughts.

It is because I love the art form of writing that I continue to design learning opportunities to make reading and writing active components of the educational day. The development of a writing life has intersected my teaching and learning life in unique ways. I have grown from a child writer of narrative text to a writer who explores different writing genres. I have studied writing styles of literary luminaries to conclude that writing is a universal practice that connects writing lives. For those who fear the thought of teaching writing, may you understand that everyone is a writer because everyone has thoughts within that need to be heard.  For those who are passionate about writing, may you be inspired by the words that you find within and for those who are dabbling in the art, may every idea give breath to a bountiful harvest of thoughts. All you need to do is let go and allow your words to give flight to a range of thoughts. From seeds, flowers grow. From words, single thoughts grow into threaded thoughts about a topic. All it takes is faith to let your words flow.

I welcome thoughts on "developing a writing life that intersects teaching and learning" in the comment section. Please post your name and job title. It is my hope that different perspectives will be heard as we build a professional learning community. 

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