Joy Write Question 7
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).
Chapters 6-7: Fletcher suggests many ways to tackle this informal writing- SOL challenge, morning pages, class notebooks, etc. Have you used any of these suggestions either personally or with your students? If not, which would you most like to try either for yourself or for your students?
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I haven’t used any of these strategies exactly as described but I have had my students engaged in poetry writing which they love and begin to see themselves as writers and flourish. I’ve modeled poetry writing for my students- sharing a poem I’ve written or recited a poem I’ve memorized. I’ve also used impromptu shares within our Collins Writing Program- Type One- writing ideas on paper stage of the writing process. My students enjoy sharing out and it gives them a sense of a common experience. Personally, I keep a home journal/diary. But, the busyness of life keeps me unfaithful, unfortunately!
I like and wish to use all the strategies for tackling informal writing and creating a classroom that becomes a writing greenbelt. I see the benefit of creating a responsive writing classroom where spelling, grammar, usage and mechanics don’t matter but rather voice, choice, audience, authentic writing for a purpose; developing one’s own writing identity and sharing writing experiences become a time-honored tradition. I see a benefit for instruction within my own practice because the writing greenbelt strategies will allow my students to develop their own writer’s moves which will only enhance formal genre or test-based writing required by my curriculum at the 12th grade level. The challenge will be to get students at the 12th grade level to buy into and see the benefit of these greenbelt writing strategies and tasks after years of formal writing and high stakes tests and exams that celebrate formulaic writing. Writing tests, they have taken and must take to meet graduation requirements. Another challenge will be to help students identify and incorporate their own writer’s moves into formal writing. The only strategy I question for 12th graders is the “wonder notebooks,” because sadly to say I feel 12th graders, older students have lost their sense of wonder and traded it in for the know it all or too smart for your own good syndrome… or must save face in front of their peers and avoid the embarrassment of not knowing something or have developed a self-inflated image the “I’m too grown” or “Mr. or Miss. know it all” image which can never admit, I still wonder about stuff and don’t know it all…
At my previous school, many teachers were heavily involved with Slice of Life writing, but I have never given it a try in my own classroom. It’s definitely something that I could incorporate easily as my team members and administration provide us with a lot of autonomy.
The only one that I have utilized is impromptu sharing, and students definitely have no qualms sharing their writing when it’s something they’re proud of or interested in.
The Wonder Notebooks remind me of a writing-based 20% project where students can wonder, explore, and collaborate. We have longer class periods next year, so this could be something I incorporate into my classroom as well.
I’m not sure if I can use SOL challenge in its purest form as I potentially have to justify all of my activities based on my curriculum and a completely open ended, optional assignment likely won’t fly with my administration. I am thinking a student writer’s notebook is something I can use as I can direct writing activities toward content more readily. I like a notebook because my content lends itself very well to illustrations, graphs, etc. I also like the idea of connecting their writing to a classroom blog; I think the quality of work is enhanced when students can be exposed to the way others think and approach different topics.
Mark, I think you’re on to something here…maybe your students can’t do the SOL challenge, but you could. What if you told a simple story – from your class/curriculum – every day for a month? I think that would be fascinating, personally, but I also think your students would love seeing you model being a writer!
I tried lots of variations of informal writing, but I don’t think anything exactly as he named or described. I would love to try the SOL myself (hence the pile of empty notebooks I keep buying and never starting). I love to hear others mention things like being too tired to start writing any earlier in the morning 🙂
I think this kind of SOL writing is something I really want to push myself to do this summer, though. I want to be able to say to my students that I managed to make time to do this, even while taking a class, and working summer jobs, and taking care of my family, etc. I can’t convince them that the time spent is worth it if it don’t do it myself. High school kids can tell (and really don’t like) when you’re fake
This year I did the SOL challenge for myself, not with my students. It was the hardest and most rewarding writing I’ve done all year (and that includes grad papers with silly page requirements). I would love to try this with my students. We have sort of kept a class notebook for one of our students who has been out a lot with medical issues, but it wasn’t in a formal capacity. I’ve also wanted to do morning pages….I actually bought a 5 minute journal, but haven’t used it yet. Maybe because I’m so tired in the morning??
Reading the SOL challenge I immediately thought of “small Moment” narratives from Lucy Calkin’s Writer’s Workshop lessons. I conjured up the image of the whole watermelon, the slice, and the smallest seed. I was reminded of how difficult it is to focus in on a minute moment for many students, and how many others took off running with small stories. I think approaching “small moment” narratives as SOL stories may make choosing a “moment” simpler. If the stories become commonplace, everyday entries, the topics will inevitably be “smaller.”
I love the idea of the class notebook. I still have my writer’s notebook from 3rd grade and I leave it on display in the writing center of our classroom. The kids often sit and read with it or gain inspiration from my ridiculous 8-year-old self. Having a real notebook on display or in circulation helps make writing feel more relatable, since writing is so personal. I think the class notebook would have a similar affect. It would promote a cohesive writing community and allow ideas to bounce around between students. It would be a collaborative work in progress.
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I have not used any of the methods Fletcher suggests. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have used variations of these strategies but always with more structure. I think the only thing really holding me back has been figuring out how best to implement it so that it is both effective and meaningful for my students. I would love to make the SOL idea work in my classroom, and I know that my Freshmen girls would definitely have a lot to contribute. My kids love to feel like they are “the experts” on life experience. I think this could strengthen our classroom community in addition to giving them the opportunity to practice their writing skills. I doubt I will run into a lack of willingness, unless it is homework assignment. Then all bets are off!
I agree Kelly…it’s very small moment writing! It also forces you to look for the moments in your day that may have seemed insignificant at the time, but could really develop into a seed idea.
I’d love to try the class notebook. I envision having the notebook on a rotating schedule so that each student has several opportunities to take it home, read through it, and add to the dialogue. Maybe SOL writing could be a part of the class notebook. I’m always amazed at the end of the year that there are still some kids who sit in class together and hardly know each other. A class notebook could be a great way to have them interact in a nonthreatening, low stakes way. For me personally, “morning pages” names what I have already planned to try doing this summer. During the school year, my mornings start so darn early I can’t yet see how I could squeeze writing in, but I’m hopeful that next fall I will find a way to continue daily writing after making it a priority over the summer. Fingers crossed!
I would love to hear how a class notebook would work out with high school students — just reading the description made me think of the kids who I have to keep separated because of the girl drama they get into. I find the same thing with students who have been in class all year (sometimes 3 or 4 years) and they don’t know anything about each other. I’m little afraid to try this out, but I’ll keep it in mind 🙂
I have not used any of the methods Fletcher describes in his book, at least not in a regular manner, with the exception of Writer’s Notebook. Many years I did have students do a notebook just for themselves, maybe 1-2 times per week for 15 minutes to get class and brains going. Some used that time to write nonsense or to doodle as I did not give them any restrictions except the usual ones about being careful what they right- to be kind to self and others. I would read the notebooks randomly or if a student explicitly asked.
I did try the basic occasional classroom notebook, but it was more like a 1-2 day event as part of my 2 period block with them where the students wrote in one notebook and passed it on. I recall doing this maybe 3 times per year. I am not sure why I did not continue it except that the kids were likely resistant to it for a couple of reasons: 1. They did not want to ‘expose’ themselves as bad writers, 2. They felt embarrassed by their content, 3. They may not have cared much for reading classmates’ work. We all know how middle schoolers tend to be egocentric. While I think some of them were fine with it, the overall groups I had were less likely to ‘buy in’ to the strategy. I should have kept trying it and modify it in some way.
The one strategy that may have been intriguing to attempt would have been the SOL that launched formally in 2013. I had left the classroom for administration in 2006 so I was not aware of the new tool, so to speak, to motivate and develop writers. I think most of the students would have enjoyed this type of writing since it could be all about them and their experiences. It also would have been non-threatening to most of the kids, as would most of the methods he delineates in the book.
I have personally used morning pages as an ongoing (and sometime sporadic) practice for several years now. For me, this is my place for writing to think/learn/problem solve. More on that in the next question.
This past semester, I had students keep a sketchnotebook in my comics class, a commonplace book in my literature classes, and a writer’s notebook in my writing class—all of which are essentially variations on the writer’s notebook. With the exception of the sketchnotebook, these were all failures in my class. I tried not to give as many restrictions and requirements for these notebooks in hopes that it would generate greenbelt and feral writing (even while not having those terms when I assigned it). In short, students did not use them or find them valuable. After Melissa’s rockin’ presentation, though, I realized I might not have employed them in the most effective ways because there was not any ongoing accountability or a basic structure for informal writing in class. I also did not model the writer’s notebook with my students, but expected them to understand how to use it.
This coming year I will be teaching an online research writing class called “Investigating Experience.” The SoL challenge seems like a perfect fit for “investigating” a small moment of our self experience everyday to help build community in an online environment. I would love to try it with my students, but I wonder how to do it so that students want to (and do) participate without making it required for the class.
Jason, I found your observations about the use or non-use of the different types of notebooks very interesting. I wonder if the students made good use of the sketch-noting one because the value of it was clear to them, whereas the others may have seemed more like something you were encouraging, but they didn’t see the inherent value. Looking forward, I wonder if SOL might be part of a menu from which students choose to share their small moments. That way, it could be part of a ‘participation’ grade, but they would have other options. Just first draft thinking here…
Hi, Jason. I like the challenge you are presenting to yourself and class this coming year. May I suggest you ask the class when you get together OR do a video introducing and send via email with a link to it, the idea in advance of the start of class to instill the idea. ask them for feedback as to their insights, how it would benefit them in this class, how they envision it working for t em, etc? If you point out the connections to course objectives and their growth as writers for life, maybe they’d be motivated to engage in the process? Maybe share a SoL you have done to show what SoL is?
One must keep in mind the students are likely a product of the ‘boxed in’to the Standards ‘ mold and this will be fairly uncharted territory… They may have fears of this way of writing…lack of knowledge, right? Hmmm, maybe have a symbol to represent SoL- maybe a ship with sails (SoL looks a bit like ‘SAIL”) and that SoL is part of a journey….what’s their destination? Is there really one destination? Self development? Improved writing skills? Improved ways to teach literacy, if ed majors?
Just thoughts I had upon reading your entry. I wish you luck with it!!!!
Janice, Thank you for those insights on the notebook! I think making the value of these kinds of writing clear and explicit might be one of the keys for the writing notebook success.
Janice and Sandy, Thank you for these fantastic ideas about SoL. I really like your idea, Janice, of the menu option to help with participation. Modeling and soliciting student feedback also seems like a way to go, too.