Saturday, November 8, 2014

It's About Practicing, Not About Publishing! Writing Highlights of the Week, Edition 2

We had yet another wonderful week of workshop teaching and learning in Palo Alto!  I could discuss many different lessons, conversations, and activities, but one in particular truly sticks out in my mind.  This particular conversation with a fourth grade teacher and ensuing mid-workshop interruption truly was the highlight of my week in the writing workshop…

While the buzz of this fourth grade workshop was in full force, the teacher, who is extremely thoughtful and reflective, pulled me aside to ask about publishing, "My students are just done with this unit on fiction writing, but we're not done with all the lessons."  She then went on to express how she was concerned that they didn't have enough time to publish the pieces before her entire grade level agreed to start the next unit of study.

Prior to this conversation, we just co-taught a mini lesson on revising with a lens.  To quote the lesson and the genius of Colleen Cruz and Lucy Calkins, "Revision is a compliment for good writing."  To be clear, revision is a messy process.  It involves a ton of talking, reflection, and thinking.  In addition, revision also includes cross outs, cuts, additions, multiple pieces of paper, post-its, and most importantly pride.  It requires our student writers to look at their own writing and reflect upon how they've grown as writers and where they're going.

"Writing workshop is about practicing, not publishing," was my response to my colleague, "It's about how our students have grown as writers and how they view themselves as writers."  I then asked her if her students have grown.  She said yes, in a big way!  I then asked if their writing reflects that growth.  She gave another confident yes.  Then, I asked if her students knew this.  She wasn't sure.  She thought about it for a bit, and then she came to a great realization about the workshop.  Our mid-workshop interruption was developed right then and there!

"Writers, drop your pencils and take a look up here."

The buzzing stopped, pencils tapped the tables as they dropped, and we suddenly had 24 pairs of eyes and ears staring up at us as we started addressing the class of writers.

"You have all been revising with a certain lens in mind.  We are so impressed with the changes and additions you've made to help your fiction writing grow today."

The student writers nodded, smiled, and listened for what came next.

"Your writing has certainly grown.  It's grown because you have grown as writers.  Now, think back to the beginning of fourth grade.  Think about the kind of writer you were then."  We paused to let them take a few moments to think.

"Now, reread your writing while asking the questions, 'How have I grown as a writer? What do I do now that I didn't do then?'  Then, jot how you've grown on a post-it.  Put that post-it on your writing where it shows evidence of that growth."

Suddenly, all 24 students started rereading their writing.  Then, slowly, one by one, they each grabbed a post-it and began writing about how they've grown.

My colleague and I then chatted again.  I asked her if she was comfortable forgoing the process of having her students publish, polish, and rewrite their pieces.  Rather than asking students to spend time prettying up their writing (purely for the sake of looking pretty and pleasing parents), if she would display the writing as is (cross-outs, mess-ups, and all!) with these growth post-its adorning the work.  Her students had spent weeks on this work.  They grew as writers in tremendous ways.  It was truly time to move on.

She loved the idea and was relieved to not spend an extra two sessions prettying-up the work.  After all, parents want to see that their children have grown and feel good about themselves and their abilities as writers.  They don't necessarily want to see a perfectly polished published piece of writing.  Plus, we're trying to highlight the process and growth in the workshop- not the product!  I learned this lesson the hard way in my own classroom last year, and am truly thrilled I was able to help a colleague with it this past week.

Writing workshop is about practicing, taking risks, and growing rather than polishing, prettying, publishing.  Let's all work more on honoring the practice and process, not the product.  

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