As National Day of Writing approaches on Oct. 20th, I often find my twitter feed full of hashtags about #WhyIWrite and #WhyITeach and #amwriting from classroom teachers and writers. I sometimes see these and immediately feel embarrassed at the lack of personal writing I am currently doing but also am doused with a yearning to reignite my writing hunger again. I want to be lost in writing my ideas and creating stories that make me giggle behind my laptop. I want to seek that joy that always brings me back to write again and again.
I work in several schools around Houston, TX and in most classrooms there is a lot of writing going on. Teachers have beautiful bulletin boards with essays and published stories on display. But somehow, something is missing from these classrooms. When it is time for writing, the joy has been sucked out of the room and you can see it on all of the students’ faces. Teachers have “writer’s workshop” on their agenda and specific writing curriculum to support their teaching. All students have their writer’s notebooks and inside each look identical; the same graphic organizers, the same outlines, the same brainstorms, and sometimes students are all writing about the same topic. To teachers, this feels controlled and organized. Their entire class is at the same place with their writing unit and no one is left behind. Teachers have a clear and organized unit of study focused on a genre that will last exactly 4 weeks. And each daily lesson provides a specific writing strategy that must be used in a final published product. As a teacher, I get wanting to be organized and prepared but what does this rigid structure do for our youngest writers? Are we teaching them that writing has a distinct plan and a formula to follow? How is a writer’s notebook truly theirs when it must have the same components as everyone else? Where is the fun, the play, and creativity in a structure that is so regimented?
I recently read Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write and it spoke directly to my heart. His book focuses on the idea that teachers need to give students low stakes writing opportunities to get high gains as writers. He argues that writers workshop has evolved into a very different beast than when it originally began. It has become over-curricularized and become so controlled that the heart and soul of what a workshop should be has almost disappeared. He argues that teachers need to provide time and space within a writing period to give students choice and play, so they may see that “writing is fun, passionate, and joyful…” (pg. 40, Joy Write) The goal should be “to create writing classrooms where the student can develop the concept: I am a writer.” (pg. 40, Joy Write) When teachers have set the pace and structure to be so restrictive, we then inhibit the young writer from learning on their own. If we think about what real writers do, we need our writer’s workshop to mimic that same process of creativity and imaginative work.
Throughout the book, Ralph Fletcher offers amazing suggestions on how to help foster and create this joyful writing with low stakes opportunities in students. However, he misses one solid aspect; the teacher. How are teachers finding joy in their own writing? What writing opportunities are teachers participating in? How can teachers use their joy of writing to impart onto their students?
Most teachers are afraid to write on their own. They come to the classroom with heavy baggage about what writing was for them as a child and how they communicate through writing today. Many, if not most, teachers do not see themselves as writers. And those teachers who do write, often are writing not for themselves but solely for their lessons or students. They are not sharing their writing with other adults or their peers. Their writing is specifically tailored for the genre or work their students are doing. This isn’t bad, but is it truly joyful writing? Do teachers get satisfaction and joy from this type of writing?
And so, I have challenged myself to find more joy in my own writing. Engaging in playful work with words and stories. I am dedicating more time daily for just writing, without a set agenda or goal. I am also challenging teachers I coach and work with to pause and find opportunities to write for themselves. My hope is that if teachers begin to seek opportunities to write for themselves as a tool to process memories, stories, or ideas, this will trickle down into their classrooms. I hope that teachers begin to see excitement and wonder in their writing and share this passion with their students. I want teachers to feel empowered and step away from their perfect binder of plans and just get messy with writing.
And so I have to ask, how are you writing joyfully today?