Q & A: A Writer’s Identity?

Sarah Amick left the following comment —

Hey, do you guys have any information on developing a writer’s identity? I have a kiddo that doesn’t think that his words matter. Do you have any mini lessons that I can teach or a good book to go along with that?

First, check out Sarah’s post about her solution — it’s very, very cool! 🙂

What a great question, Sarah. I think this is the heart of writing workshop. Until kids realize their words DO matter, then there’s not much of a point to writing. Too often teachers send the message that the reason to write is get a grade. Like you, I’ve been thinking about how to help kids learn to accept the persona of a writer. Here are a couple of places I’ve found inspiration:

Feedback– I believe the faster a person sees how their writing impacts another person, the sooner they will embrace their identity as a writer. It matters when people comment on our writing & it makes us want to write more. Our students need others to react with emotion to their writing. Peer collaboration or a system to send writing home to parents would be a good place to start. Another option would have students in response groups with an adult in each group (perhaps some staff from around the building — lunch people, principal, counselor). Then they could read their stories and get immediate feedback.

Student Testimonies — A few weeks ago I was in a first grade classroom and Jill Perrin (teacher extraordinaire) had a past student lead the focus lesson. The student shared with the class a piece of her writing and then said a few words about why she writes. I got goosebumps listening to this seven year old . . . you know what they say — From the mouths of babes.

I also heard a high school cadet teacher talk about her writer’s notebooks to a fourth grade class. Again, I found myself with goosebumps listening to her words. Here this 16 year old was speaking about writing daily and had brought a bag full of “some of my favorite writer’s notebooks.” Amazing stuff to hear kids talking as writers to other kids who are writers.

It’s a Gift —I’ve been using this phrase quite a bit this year. I’ve been trying to help kids understand the notion that when we share our words and we share our stories we are giving each other a rare gift. I’m a richer person when I’m touched by other’s words. As a member of the community, we should want to help each other by sharing our stories. As I’m writing this, I’m percolating on how to change this into a focus lesson.

Share writing that’s powerful — When we hear/read writing that changes us or inspires us or makes us want to take action, that inspires us to write too. Bring in a text that is near & dear to your soul, read it & share why it’s powerful.

Our talk — The way we talk in our conferences sets our expectations for writers. We can develop their identities as writers simply by addressing them as writers. (Sarah — I know this is one of your (many) strengths in workshop — this was just a point on my mind about this topic.)

How Writer’s Work by Ralph Fletcher. I just shared the first chapter with a teacher for her to use in her classroom on Monday. It talks about finding a “custom-made process” that will work for you. He embraces the idea that each writer is unique & so is the way we go about writing. Perhaps when students realize they have control over how they write, they will embrace the idea that their words matter?

I’m looking forward to comments on this topic & to seeing what Stacey has to say. Thanks Sarah!