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Joy Write Question 6

 

The series of posts for “Joy Write” refer to the title of the text our new Summer Institute participants are reading. This is a fabulous book that examines writing instruction, published in 2017 by Ralph Fletcher. Our SI participants are going to comment on the questions, but any reader is welcome to contribute (whether you have read the book or not).

 

Chapter 5: How realistic is greenbelt writing in your classroom? Where do you see places that this type of writing may fit in?

16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tammy #

    In my opinion “greenbelt writing” is very realistic. But, only if a teacher of writing is willing to take a risk to be unstructured and to take their hands off the process of writing to simply let kids write about what they want in a wild kind of way with enthusiasm, passion and joy and as Fletcher says to see themselves as writers. However, “greenbelt writing” is not realistic to the teacher or school system that has a curriculum that kills the raw vegetation and species that exist in the greenbelt as Fletcher expresses by his metaphor. I believe as teachers of writing which is a creative process in its purest sense, we must embrace the first approach and be free to allow students to cultivate their own land and be their own unique species adding to the landscape of written text that is ever being produced. Through creativity they and we create a new landscape, a greenbelt as Fletcher says in his metaphor. As teachers of writing we must embrace the wild, lush landscape and be a model of this wild freeness to write unrestrained and to abandon all form of structure that the developed world-our curricular models promote. Will we choose the benefit of informal raw writing to promote creativity, passion and joy for writing or will we be unwilling to step outside the box of the developed workshop for curricular models, testing and teaching writing genres and take a risk? Greenbelt writing fits perfectly for daily free writes-SSW where students have choice- a chance to choose a given topic or to write about their own topic of interest. I am wondering if this can be manageable within a structured curriculum wherein there is a sacred untouchable time to establish the “greenbelt”- a specified time when students are given space to simply write for writing sake?

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    June 1, 2019
  2. Dan Provence #

    Like I’ve said before, I’m not great at just letting kids write to write. There’s always a purpose, and there’s always an end-game. I think that I’m able to foster creativity and autonomy within the writing process, but I don’t think I have ever truly been able to use greenbelt writing to its fullest extent.

    Next year, I definitely want to focus more on incorporating writer’s notebooks and giving students the opportunity to play with words, sentence structure, language, etc. and truly dive in to greenbelt writing. I like the idea that it’s not “keep out” but rather “hands off.” If we let kids express themselves, and play around with words, the learning will come naturally.

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    May 31, 2019
  3. Meg #

    I do have a certain amount of freedom and I have included Writer’s Notebooks that are fairly unstructured this year. There are certainly some activities I think my students would enjoy more than others, so I’ll be thinking all of this through to get ready for next year. The obstacles I see are that I have to provide the time and if there is not a grade attached, some students will just not do it. I do keep the grading very much based on just having writing on the page. I don’t want to dwell on obstacles – I feel like I can find ways around most of them at this point.

    Many people mentioned balance, and I definitely agree. I would love to have time to nurture them and get them to think of themselves as writers, but in 11th grade I have have students who write incoherent sentences and have no sense of grammar, structure, organization, etc. I don’t want to kill their creativity, but I also can’t responsibly send them off without trying to teach them to communicate at least somewhat effectively.

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    May 31, 2019
    • Dan Provence #

      This is where it’s tough–the balance, especially in your circumstance. We all have different groupings of students, and because of the way our education system works, the differences in their abilities can be startling. How do we make this work for all students without letting some fall through the cracks?

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      May 31, 2019
  4. Abigail #

    I have lots of opportunities to provide time for greenbelt writing. I feel like I have a lot of autonomy and flexibility in how I plan for the 45 minutes each day, so my issue would be prioritizing that and remembering to keep up with scheduling that time. There are definitely times of the year where this would be easier and more natural. Consistency, as with anything, would take some work on my part to prioritize this type of writing often.

    I use writers’ notebooks, so we have the physical place to write and keep track of our writing. The idea of greenbelt writing would help me to free kids up from the baggage they bring about writing from previous experiences and from internalizing the red pen marks as the message “I’m not good at writing.” That’s a tough shell to crack, but it’s doable, and greenbelt writing might be a great method to try.

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    May 30, 2019
  5. I use a lot of greenbelt writing, which I realize is a luxury because my students are not in a tested grade level. Sometimes though, this comes back to haunt me when we have to do a specific writing prompt as a district assessment, because students don’t put the same effort and enthusiasm into it as they do their every day writing. I need to find a better balance between the two.

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    May 29, 2019
  6. Mark Schmidt #

    I have the same time constraints for utilizing free writing that others appear to grapple with. With so much content to cover, the idea of sacrificing some of it is counter intuitive. I think asking students to have the topics we are learning in mind when they free write might be a way to incorporate this type of writing but I am concerned that the spirit of it may suffer if I insist on the inclusion of course content.

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    May 29, 2019
    • Something to consider is maybe working in poetry or playing with the style of the writing. You could still include the heart of the content, but maybe the format could change to add more choice to it.

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      May 29, 2019
  7. I think, to a degree, greenbelt writing is realistic in my classroom, but sometimes I feel enslaved to the time constraints that I’m given. Our classes are only 43 minutes long (if you do not account for the time it takes to take attendance and all that jazz), so it can be difficult to allow for that time of discovery and experimentation when I am also expected to have my students churn out five different genres of writing during the year, as mandated by the school system. Although many of my students do enjoy the less-structured writing, some of them are starting to see it more as a chore. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t give them enough time or if my prompts are too specific. Perhaps I need to give them more time and more freedom to choose? Food for thought.

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    May 28, 2019
    • Jason #

      Sam, I wonder if you could setup greenbelt writing at the beginning of the year in a less structured way and then make that a part of the daily practice while you take attendance and complete basic housekeeping tasks of the class. I wonder if smaller chunks of unstructured writing time would be less intimidating and less laborious for your students. Thanks for this food for thought, though!

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      May 29, 2019
  8. Jason #

    I want to include Greenbelt writing in my classroom and think there is certainly a place for it. Especially in generative parts of the semester as we build community, hone our interests, and explore topics to write about, Greenbelt kinds of writing could be a useful tool for students to refer back to for sharing and self-research.

    I’m anxious, though, because as Fletcher defines Greenbelt writing, I suspect that college students might not engage with it because of writing traumas from previous writing classes. For example, Fletcher notes that Greenbelt writing is “the writing kids choose to do outside the writing workshop. Stuff that is student-initiated” (91). My students struggle to complete formal writing assignments because of the demands of other courses, work, family, health, finances, community, etc. I find it difficult for them to prioritize a writing class, so I wonder what the best practices are to encourage SELF-INITIATED writing when I have limited interaction with students or students who cannot identify themselves as writers.

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    May 28, 2019
    • Meg #

      I completely agree with your point about outside constraints as an obstacle. When I recently surveyed my seniors (who were very highly motivated) they told me pretty consistently that they didn’t spend the time on reading or writing because other assignments, activities, after-school jobs, etc got in the way. We even had a hard sell with students when we implemented daily SSR. I excitedly told them the benefits of leisure reading and that we were giving them a gift of 15 minutes. They all responded that time could be better used studying or finishing homework (Happy ending, we did keep chugging and get a lot of students on board) I know the response would be the same with “fun” writing. I do see it’s value, but I will need to provide the time and find ways to convince the students that it’s worth it.

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      May 31, 2019
    • Jason, after I did the Institute I gutted my syllabus for WRT120 and you are pretty close to the reality of what happened to me/my students that fall…especially when I introduced the multi-genre research paper. They were not convinced that they could write about ANYthing and it took several weeks – and showing a ton of examples – to convince them of this!

      BUT, in the end, it paid off! They gave me written and verbal feedback that indicated that they rediscovered the joy in writing and that they now saw things differently. That was enough for me to see the value of greenbelt writing!

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      June 11, 2019
  9. Kelly #

    Greenbelt writing could definitely be a reality in my classroom. Students are already able to “free write” in Writer’s Notebooks but I’d like to increase the amount of time allotted to this and structure it in a freer, more personal way. During our literacy block, we rotate through reading/writing stations as independent work while I meet with small reading groups and the students enjoy some of the stations and loathe others. Using some of this time for greenbelt writing would definitely promote more engagement.

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    May 27, 2019
    • I agree with you, Kelly. A lot of my “free writing” activities are starting to feel more structured than I would like for them to be. I have allotted time at the beginning of most of my classes for this “less-structured” writing, but many of my students are still seeing it as a daunting task rather than a means of creative expression. I think maybe increasing the amount of time would benefit my classroom as well.

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      May 28, 2019
  10. Sandy Shacklady-White #

    In my role as a professional development person, I can see using greenbelt writing in certain trainings we do. We do not do enough writing with our learners who are adults in the field of education in some manner: administrators, teachers, psychologists, counselors, advocates, parents/guardians (not often), SLPs, OT, behavior specialists, and so forth. In my 2 years at PaTTAN I have been encouraging colleagues to do more engaging activities so that we model strategies that can be implemented back in the schools or even in student homes, regardless of the topic of the training. I think writing that is greenbelt in nature would be applicable.

    While it would not be pure greenbelt due to using the training topic as a springboard, in our training that includes legal issues in special education, especially around behavior of students, I could see allowing a time at certain points so that learners may get their passionate thoughts on paper. One part of the law, manifestation determination reviews, especially elicit passionate dialog among the group. Given a free flowing writing opportunity at the start of this section would provide a reflective time for learners to express themselves via writing. I can certainly see the writing become about specific students and situations they have had to handle. There could be sharing, or not, with the trainers or in pairs or however is desired. At the end of the section, there could be a time to process what they have learned with what they know is reality for them.

    Through the writing exercise the learners may be able to reconcile their situations in the schools with the legal mandates of IDEA and PA Chapter 14. Or it may not. I could see that some of the writing may elevate a person’s frustration with the desire ‘to do right’ by abiding by law while seeking ways to address the increasing concern with school safety.

    In reflecting on my years teaching middle school ELA learning support classes, it may have been a challenge initially. It would have taken some careful groundwork as the students were ones with learning disabilities that impacted their acquisition, retention and expansion of their literacy skills. Many of them came to me disliking reading and especially disliking writing. Most were a solid 2 or more years behind their neurotypical peers in their skills.

    However, if I presented the concept, modeled it to them and started out small, I could see that over time many of them may have lessened their dislike, or even fear, of writing because the green belt writing would not be graded and would be what was meaningful to them. I know there would be a few who would have been very rigid despite many opportunities to go into ‘wild territory’, in wanting to know how long it has to be, on what topic, etc. Many of them came with a sense of learned helplessness and would have leaned too much on others, such as support staff and/or me, to ‘get it done’ so they could move on to something less painful to them.

    Proper planning that would include differentiation based on their IEPs, would be crucial in greenbelt writing in order to help students realize they are writers and can use writing to empower themselves to gain important skills for life long self- development and communication in the 21st century.

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    May 26, 2019

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