Boy Writers: A Guest Blog Post by Caroline Gonzalez
Caroline Gonzalez began her teaching career in New York City. During her 15 years in New York, she taught K, 1, 2, Transitional Bilingual, and Reading Recovery. She has completed her fifth year of teaching in South Brunswick, NJ and is currently working as an Instructional Support Teacher. During her time in South Brunswick, she has helped introduce and implement the writing workshop model in her school and she serves on the Language Arts Curriculum Committee for the district. Caroline is the host of a blog called Writing from the Heart. She has only been blogging since March 2010 when she joined the Slice of Life Story Challenge.
As professionals, we know that the word “finished” can never be used to describe our learning of how students think and learn, how to ensure student success, and how to meet the needs of all students. For this reason, at the end of each school year, our staff seeks out an area in which we can study and grow. This year we decided to take a closer look at writing and boys. This decision was made based on conversations teachers had during the year and our writing assessment scores. Our school results coincided with the results of other district schools, which showed our boys are struggling in the area of writing. The other schools also noticed a trend in boys struggling with writing. Many of the boys do not seem interested or just seem to go through the motions of writing workshop.
We began a book study of Ralph Fletcher’s Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices. This thought-provoking book covers topics such as: the role of gender, (dis)engagement, violent writing, conferences, teacher and student language, and handwriting. Once I began reading this book, I had a hard time putting it down. There are many samples of student work, quotes from boys, and personal stories from the author. One of my favorite features of Boy Writers are the suggestions for things you can do in your classroom to address the needs of the boy writers, which are found at the end of each chapter.
I’m a teacher with 20 years of teaching experience, who has implemented the writing workshop model and helped other teachers implement that model into their own classrooms. However, Ralph Fletcher made me take a long hard look at my own teaching. I began to ask myself:
- Have I been more biased towards girls?
- Have I not been as supportive about boys’ topics because I could not relate to them?
- Have I not given boys freedom to write a genre of their own interest because I have been too busy making sure I introduce the prescribed genres in the curriculum?
I also reflected on ways I could create a more boy-friendly environment. The following are suggestions from the book:
- Give them real choice about what to write and how to write about it.
- Show an interest in what subjects the boys are passionate about. These often make great topics for writing.
- Be more accepting of violence in writing (with commonsense limits).
- Celebrate the quirky humor in boys’ writing (humor = voice).
- Give boys specific praise during writing conferences.
- Don’t insist they revise everything they write.
- Make room for genres that engage boys: fiction, fantasy, sports writing, spoofs, comics, graphic novels, etc.
- Allow upper-grade students opportunities to draw while composing.
- Messy handwriting is a developmental issue that affects many boys. Don’t take it personally. Allow students to type when possible.
- Show an interest in what writing kids do at home, for fun.
- Be inclusive about what writing you allow kids to read out loud. If only sincere, realistic, emotional pieces get shared, boys will turn off.
- Take the long view. Don’t expect great writing right away.
As a new school year approaches, I am filled with a renewed excitement, and self-challenge, for writing. I want to be the person that changes the environment so that no student just “goes through the motions” in writing.