In March, my best friend and I decided to check out the Teachers College Reunion, a twice-annual event hosted by the Reading and Writing Project at TC. We’re lucky to live pretty close by plus...Jason Reynolds was giving the keynote address, and that was something I didn’t want to miss. And he was incredible, just the most amazing storyteller. I felt really, really lucky to be there.
I went to a few other sessions. One was about diverse books, getting into the weeds of how to really be intentional about how we curate our classroom libraries. Another was with Lucy Calkins herself, fearless leader of the TCRWP. While I’d done my Masters at TC, I was in a very specific special ed program, and never crossed paths with Lucy or her program, beyond waiting while the elevator doors opened on the gorgeous TCRWP mural on their floor of the building. Her workshop that morning was about finding new energy in writers workshop in the spring, and it was a really inspiring hour in which she talked about really listening to our kids to hear what’s most important to them, and celebrating BIG when we publish pieces. My big take-away, in terms of classroom practice, was Flash Drafts, where students draft their whole piece in one shot. The idea is to spend a lot of time in thoughtful preparation, then write, write, write with joyful intensity, and then have energy and motivation left over to revise and edit once the words are on the page. This is so the opposite of how drafting usually goes in my classroom, and I couldn’t wait to try it.
The timing was helpful, because we were in the early stages of a narrative writing project, and would be ready to draft before too long. One step that I think really helped was making storyboards as the last part of the planning process. I found a simple template, and we spent a period or two filling them out with the major plot points of their narratives. I made it clear that each box would get stretched into a page or paragraph of writing. It helped my writers organize their ideas, and also to expand them with more details while drafting. But more on that in a minute. Another idea I took from the workshop session was to take time to be reflective on the purpose of our writing. It serves the practical purpose of zeroing in on an approach to telling the story, and the larger purpose of helping writers find the heart of their story.
I started talking up Writing Day as we came to the end of our planning, making a big deal out of the fact that all of this preparation was to help us write like crazy on this one special day. The day before, we had a meeting to plan some of the details. Writing Day would be a Friday, and I had decided to dedicate most of the day to it. I knew that one period wouldn’t be nearly enough, given the pace at which my kiddos usually work, and that there would have to be a certain amount of support and excitement in order to sustain us for so long. So I said I thought we would need brain food, and asked what kind of things they would like, and what else might help them. I must have filled half a dozen sticky notes with their ideas and requests. Check out the pictures to see how the room was set up when they came in, and the list of choices on the marker board.
I started by going over the Flashdraft Tips, which was also helpful for the other adults helping us so that we were all on the same page. (In addition to my two incredible classroom paras, I’d invited our literacy coach to join us. I asked her to pop in to offer a little cheerleading, which she did gladly...and then she pulled up a chair and started helping the nearest writer, because that’s the kind of person she is. It takes a village, and I’m so grateful for mine!)
After a brief introduction, we got writing! The kids had their storyboards, so they all knew where to start, which was crucial because when I said ready, set, go, there weren’t people looking at me and saying they didn’t know what to write. They got started, and I circulated, making sure people had the tools they needed and handing out snacks. (I called the healthy snacks brain food, and one friend in particular deeply embraced the idea that the brain food was helping him, and ate so much of everything I offered. It was awesome. And for the record, we started with the healthy stuff, and saved the M&Ms for a pick-me-up in the afternoon. Not that anyone was worried.)
Overall, I felt like the day was a huge success. The kids were excited about writing, showed incredible stamina and enthusiasm, and were able to stretch their stories to include a ton more detail than they have in the past. The planning work we did was well worth it, and I think the fun stuff marked the day as special and add some good energy to something that could have been really tough for them. We did not finish any drafts in one day. I think it’s okay, but it did kind of drag out over the next week. Looking forward, I want to try making the Writing Day earlier in the week, and making space to expand it into a second day if we need to, keeping the fun and intensity. Even over a few days, it felt so much better than the long drawn out weeks it feels like we drafted for in the past.
While I was planning and executing this day, I tried to keep choice and freedom in the center of my mind. Writing Day was my idea, and I presented it as something we were going to try, explaining that I’d learned about it from another writing teacher and why I thought it would be good for us. From there, though, I wanted the kids to have as much choice and agency as possible, and I tried to say yes as often as I could. They chose the snacks, and music if they wanted it. They chose where in the room to work, and when they needed a break. They chose to work on laptops, or paper, and what kind of paper. The friend in the photo above with his plates of brain food really wanted to cut apart his storyboard and glue the sketch to each page of his draft: yes. This is your project. The answer is yes.
Writing about practicing literacy and freedom with my small humans.