I just finished reading the January 2009 Issue of School Talk, which is focused on nurturing young writers.
Katie Wood Ray’s Article “Understanding the Curriculum of Time in the Teaching of Writing” may have focused on early elementary school classrooms, but it certainly resonated with me as an upper elementary school teacher. These are the excerpts, from her wonderful narrative in a kindergarten classroom, that spoke to me regarding the way we teach our students to persevere and stick with a piece of writing over the course of time:
It really doesn’t matter how many craft lessons or genre studies we plan for students if they don’t first learn how to sit down in a chair, stay there for a period of time, and make some work for themselves that leads to writing. And they have to come back the next day and do it again (Ray, 2009, 2).
This is really at the core of what we try to teach our students during the first six weeks of school. By the time the kids get to the fourth grade, I notice that nearly all of them understand the idea of sticking with a topic for a period of time rather than abandoning it for something more attractive or exciting.
Being able to work your way through time with no work set clearly out before you, is a fundamental to becoming competent as a writer. Writers work with a vision of some product they want to have when they’re finished… but then they have to figure out how to get from nothing to something, from that vision of a picture book to a real, tangible product (Ray, 2009, 2).
This is hard work for a child to do, isn’t it. It’s hard for us, as adults, to work our way through writing tasks… through blank pages. Perhaps, as teacher-writers, we can show our students how to do this hard work… how to negotiate a blank page… how to have a vision and run with it until it’s our best work. This makes me think that keeping and showing our students process logs, in the upper grades, might be a good way to show them how we negotiate the blank page and the decisions we make to fill it up. (Click here for an example of a process log.)
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).