For years, the reluctant writers in my classroom were my biggest stressor when it came to teaching middle school writing. There were so many students in my class that just needed to pick up their pencil and write!! No matter how much I begged, some students just would not write… and if they wouldn’t write, it was hard to get to those happy mini-lessons I saw in the best books about teaching writing.
That’s not a problem I have these days. I decided a few years back that I needed to change the way students FELT about writing. They seemed reluctant, unsure, and rarely confident. I wanted excitement. So, I set out to get it- and I did! On a typical Writer Wednesday in my classroom these days… students beg for “just two more minutes,” and I (excitedly) deny their request.
Getting Them Writing
These changes took time and intentional planning. First, I established a regular writing time for my students to create large volumes of writing. I needed them to write a great deal of text- any text really- I just needed them to get thoughts onto paper, and build their writing stamina. I established Writer Wednesday. Every Wednesday we start our ELA block with a writing prompt, and students add to their bank of writing. This time is predictable, and students appreciate that. The expectations are clear, and success is within reach for everyone.
Safety in Protocols
Everyone has something to write. Since setting out to make sure my students love to write, I’ve really analyzed every step of the process. My most reluctant writers taught me that the biggest struggle for them was getting started. So, I’ve removed that obstacle! Each Writer Wednesday, students begin class with a sticky note on their desk. First, they “stop and jot” ideas when they see the day’s prompt for a full two minutes. They must write “something” down. Anything. Everyone can do that. Next, I set my timer again for 3 minutes and students turn to their pre-arranged groups of 4 and “share and snag.” This is where they share ideas and snag, or jot down the ones they like best. After that, students share ideas they heard from others in their groups with the whole class (crediting their classmate by name, of course). I snag some of the most interesting ideas and record them on white board, compiling a bank of ideas. Then, and only then- after ALL OF THAT preparation- do I ask my students to write in their Writer’s Notebooks.
Next, I became intentional about my feedback. My goal is for students to LOVE writing. In this stage of our writing experience, the only feedback I give is positive. I praise the best and ignore the rest. (Maybe I make some notes of my own- but I do not comment on errors in Writer’s Notebooks, or say anything negative in class). I comment regularly about writing stamina, and push everyone to write the whole time. By the way- “the whole time” is exactly seven minutes to start! It is important for students to be successful. And, I like to leave them wanting more. So I cut them right off while they are loving it.
Last, I make space for sharing writing. For years, I encouraged students to write, and moved on. We revised, polished, published… I rarely protected time for sharing student writing. I definitely did not prioritize it. Something I’ve learned in these past few years, is that my priorities become my students’ values. Now, I protect 5-10 minutes EVERY Writer Wednesday for students to voluntarily share their writing. We acknowledge and appreciate students’ willingness to be vulnerable. I am amazed at what I hear.
Grab a free week of my ELA class warmups and let me know how they work for your young writers!