The fourth graders in my classroom participate in a classroom economy. Students have checkbooks and receive a weekly salary for different classroom jobs. While this, in itself, might be an interesting blog post it isn’t my chosen topic today. I bring it up because last week, as the class discussed possible ways to use the money they were earning each week, a student excitedly raised his hand and asked, “Can we buy extra writing time?” I have to say I wasn’t quite sure I had heard correctly. But then… several others added enthusiastic words of agreement. And so, it was decided, on our list next to extra recess and a chance to sit at the teacher’s desk, was the ability to use their hard earned money to buy writing time. Really!
It is true that the students in my classroom love to write. They ask to bring their writer’s notebook home and out to recess. They occasionally, to my dismay, compose frantically, their writer’s notebook half hidden in their desk when they should be finishing a multiplication problem or labeling the layers of the earth. I have found, over the years, that giving students choice and providing them with an audience for their work are critically important components when helping students increase their writing stamina and enjoyment. However, there is one tool that trumps all in the pursuit of this goal: write with your students!
This one tool is incredibly powerful! I write daily with my students and at the end of writing time they eagerly look forward to hearing what I have written. I use the document camera to share with them my scribblings of a rough draft: imperfect spelling, ideas crossed out, new ideas added. I share the struggles I face as I turn a chosen rough draft into something finished. I help them peer into the world of an adult writer. This alone is powerful. However, its power can be magnified if a teacher chooses topics that are relevant to the students and, most importantly, candid.
Last week, as a precursor to a reading lesson, I gave students a list of things to think about during writing time. We would later read the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. In this book, Alexander’s day is made worse when his friend, who Alexander believed to be his best friend, informs Alexander that he is only his third best friend. We can infer that Alexander, rightfully, feels left out. I suggested that students might, among other writing choices, consider writing about a time they felt left out. Students knew they would be sharing their stories with other students the next day so the list of choices also included less sensitive connections to the book such as describing a time they had to eat a food they hated or a time they fell asleep with gum in their mouth.
During writing time that day I decided to tackle writing about one time I felt left out. At the end of writing time, when I shared my piece with the class, a rare quietness settled over the room. The students were hanging on my every word. For them, this really has very little to do with writing. This has to do with students desperately needing to know that an adult, a successful adult at that, has dealt with the same things they are dealing with. Their teacher is okay and they will be too. The next day students were writing and talking less about their dislike of lima beans and were delving into more complicated topics. It was safe now to do so. When students feel free to write candidly about what is really on their minds it is natural that they will want to write more.. And… the best way to do this is for you to do it too. Happy writing!
Check out our Schema Scavenger Hunt at our Teachers Pay Teachers YouCan2 Store.! It includes 3 reading and 3 writing mini lessons which, among other things, encourage student writing choice, provide an audience for student writing and, most importantly, provide a platform for you to write with the students about ideas that are candid and relevant to their lives.