Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Creativity and Choice in Writers' Workshop
As I looked at this list of words, I thought, "Wow, it would be nice for creativity to be more important in our day, but...." I am a pretty literal person when it comes to making changes or setting goals. If you say we should increase creativity in the classroom, I see this huge goal of immediately trying to be more creative in every subject. However, you know as well as I do that creativity often gets pushed out of the classroom to focus on skills, mastery, content, etc. and to make sure we are moving along at a break-neck pace to hit all of our objectives. (All of that makes me feel like I sound like a bad teacher--I promise, I think I'm pretty awesome at this job, but let's be real.)
So, as I sat through our meeting, I thought, "How can I at least incorporate a little more creativity to make an effort towards this ambitious goal?" Writing stands out to me as the time of day where I could surely aim for more creativity (and choice, and student-centeredness). Writing is like art--a creative outlet and process--it's messy, it takes time, and it could definitely be more creative than we allow it to be when we teach students through genres all year. (I now feel like genre-based teaching in writing is what keeps me from allowing students to develop more creativity. Writer's have choices, not only in topic, but also in format, so why shouldn't my students? I'll get to more about this later:)
I came up with a scary idea, but now that I have launched it (about 3 days in), I am SOOOOOO excited about the potential I see for amazing writing and for inspiring students to see themselves as writers with worthwhile things to say.
What if students could choose their genre AND format for (almost) EVERY writing project? At my grade level, we have realized how super-awesome it is to have our reading and writing units connected, at least by a thread. You get so much bang for your buck with this approach (like we did last year with our Holocaust Book Clubs/Literature-Based Essays).
We really want our reading and writing to be highly connected. We are reading Wonder by RJ Palacio as our beginning of the year read aloud, so I started listing all of the ideas I could come up with for ways to write with Wonder as an umbrella. Then, I decided I needed a graphic organizer with categories to help me launch this with students. I came up with: questions, real-life connections, imagine, and reactions. I thought these categories would encompass just about every thought, genre, and topic we could come up with.
This is what we came up with when I introduced this format for "thinking" during a reading minilesson. As students provided ideas, I did my best to make sure I turned them into more generalized topics. (So, if someone said, "Auggie got made fun of and I have too," I turned it into "getting made fun of." (The only place this didn't work--and it's going to be okay--was in the IMAGINE category. I definitely wanted students to imagine re-writing and adding to the story with this category.) To lead the minilesson, we focused on one category at a time. I provided students with one example and then asked for their ideas.
On Friday, I moved the lessons into writer's workshop. I gave students the typed list of their ideas and asked them to highlight ones that really stood out to them as something they would be excited to "spend a little more time thinking about." Notice, I didn't say WRITING. I didn't want to focus them (or turn them off) just yet. I wanted them to be completely open to just identify topics they were interested in. Next, I had them put star their top topic...and it was time for writers' workshop to be over :)
Today, we created a poster listing "Ways Writers Can Choose to Write."
I was BLOWN away at my students' ideas and creativity (and we only had 10 minutes to make this brainstorm). Remember my first chart (scroll to top :)? The one where I identified the types of writing each section would lend itself to? My students were able to totally see through that. (BTW, I never shared the kinds of writing I thought the category would lead too--I didn't want to limit their ideas). I told them that with "Why is it challenging for most kids to accept someone who is different?" as the topic, most teachers would immediately choose essay as the format. They didn't include essay in their ideas at all! (Although, I know the skills of essay writing will come in handy if they choose to write a blog post or letter). I am totally getting buy-in for all the lessons I want to teach--making those lessons more necessary because students are CHOOSING their format and writing topic.
Why I love this new approach and why I think it will work is because I believe that almost all lessons we aim to teach in "writing class" can apply to all genres of writing. Nonfiction authors use narrative (I just wrote a blog post; I think I've also told you some story.). How to use commas, show-don't-tell, support your ideas with evidence and examples, use narrative to get your point across--I think I've got plenty of lessons to choose from that will be beneficial, no matter the type of writing students CHOOSE to work on.
CREATIVITY and CHOICE. What do you think? It feels great to slowly be chipping away at their list of when "WRITING is the WORST..." :)