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GUEST BLOG POST: My (Wanna Be) Writing Life–and How It Changed My Work with Kids

Ruth Metcalfe infuses her classroom with joyful and purposeful teaching. She is passionate about teaching and learning, and loves thinking about how theory looks when put into practice in the classroom—the place where theory and practice meet. In her 20 years as an educator, Ruth has taught first, second, and fourth grades and provided professional development and coaching at both the building and district level. She has also served as a literacy consultant, presented at local, state, and national conferences, and co-authored Building Bridges From Early to Intermediate Literacy, Grades 2-4.

Ruth lives with her husband and three children in northern Indiana. This school year, she was lucky to teach and learn alongside 23 first graders.

I have a confession to make. I don’t talk about my life as a writer. Or at least I didn’t until this year. It’s difficult for me to think of myself as a writer. Yes, I know that’s strange coming from someone who has published “for real.” I’ve tried. I started journals and writer’s notebooks. I talked the talk in my classroom; however, I wasn’t really backing it up with action.

About a year ago, I joined a writing group. Ruth A. has posted about our group, and it’s the best thing I’ve done as a writer. It has made me pay more attention to my writing life and how I could talk about it like I talk about my reading life. It has impacted my classroom practice. It’s still something I have to think deliberately about and I will probably always feel more like a reader than a writer. The difference is that I have made my writing life more visible. I also took some deliberate action—one thing at a time over the course of a year.

  • I started blogging about my professional life (http://teachingwithjoyandpurpose.blogspot.com/).
  • I started a blog (http://slicesfromthesofa.blogspot.com/) for slicing on TWT and did the SOLSC.
  • I learned that I prefer to have different notebooks for different purposes.
  • I talked to some of my colleagues about my writing and encouraged them to write.
  • I wrote what I asked my kids to write.
  • I started carrying a small notebook.

Sharing my writing life is making a difference in my classroom. I was able to pull out my idea notebook to show F. when he commented that he started, but didn’t finish a lot of stories because he had lots of ideas he didn’t want to forget. We got out my idea notebook and I showed him how I use it. We stapled together note cards to make him a tiny idea book. It worked for him, and he taught three other kids how to use one—he even made them idea books. 

I started verbalizing what I was doing when I made lists, jotted reminders or took notes so the kids would see me doing these writerly things. Soon they started doing them too, and writing became a more natural part of our classroom lives.  I showed the kids my notebooks and talked about how I used each one. Several kids started carrying their own notebooks to and from school. C. would run for his observation notebook when it started to snow, during thunderstorms, and when our seeds sprouted. 

Our comfort level grew together. I talked about my writing group and how our workshop was sort of like that in some ways. I shared how I was growing as a writer when we talked about how they were growing as writers. During the SOLSC, we bonded over the shared experience of learning to pay attention to the world, identifying possibilities for writing, and remembering things like writers do. We shared the agony of days when that little blank box felt bigger than we were. I started responding differently to my kids—writer to writer—and they started responding differently as well. We felt like a true community of writers.

The important thing to notice is that when I deliberately started acting like I was the kind of person who does writerly things, and when I talked to others about my writing, it impacted my classroom practice.

Recently, Ruth A. posted about how often we as teachers teach kids to plan for their reading lives, but how we almost never do the same for writing. She’s right. Reading plans seem natural to most of us—after all, it’s easier for many of us to think of ourselves as readers than it is to think of ourselves as writers. Maybe we need to start by making writing plans for ourselves.

So this summer, I made plans for my writing life. I plan to continue blogging about once a week on both blogs—slicing should be easier than usual, since I love to write about family life or things I notice outside my windows. Summer is good for that.  Blogging professionally will be a bit more challenging, since I mostly reflect on things that are happening in my classroom. However, since I do have some professional reading planned, I’ll blog about what I’m reading and thinking.

I set a goal to write at least once a week in the notebook I use to write about our family. It sits out where I can see it and is next to the spot where I sit with my coffee in the morning.  I’ll continue to carry with me the tiny notebook for ideas and the one I use for lists and the other stuff of day-to-day life. I’ll meet with my writing group and plan to work with some poetry ideas that are in my head but not on paper, and will work more on the story idea that came to me this spring. They’ll ask to see what I’ve been doing, and I don’t want to show up with nothing.

How about you? What plans will you make? I know it’s not easy, and you may have started many times before. Start small, but keep starting. It’ll make you a better teacher of writing and when you talk with your kids about your writing life, you will become a true member of the community of writers in your room.

8 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG POST: My (Wanna Be) Writing Life–and How It Changed My Work with Kids Leave a comment

  1. Oh, you have given me the BEST idea! As party favors for our closing celebration, we will make little idea booklets for the summer (with note cards as covers!). Your post resonated with me on so many levels. My third graders and I so value our “writer to writer” conversations. Thanks so much for a lovely and inspiring post!

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  2. Thanks for the great post Ruth! I think I need one of those idea books because I have so many kicking around in my head and I really think it’s time for me to get going on some of those ideas!

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  3. Thanks for this post Ruth. Becoming writers ourselves is transforming and you make it seem possible. Start small…good advice.

    My summer writing plans:
    1. Query letter for an agent..
    2. Rewrite an ending.
    3. Pound out a draft for a professional book.
    4. (If September counts as summer…) Write a zero draft for my next YA fiction.

    Are those things small? LOL.

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  4. I love how you set the example for your students. Jotting down ideas whenever and where ever they occur opens a whole new world. I believe it makes us much more observant; I usually think, “Oh, I’ll remember that idea,” yet I rarely do when I finally find paper and pen. Keeping a notebook for various topics/purposes is a great way to organize as well. I’m sure you are an inspiration to the community of writers (your students). I’m always looking for topics for public speaking ideas, and they are right around me. As long as I take the time to do what I encourage my students to do – just write, as you said. We should expect no more from them than what we are prepared to give. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

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  5. Thank you for starting to talk about your writing life. I have loved your pieces on the SOLC. You write with such clarity. I have now started reading the archives on your other blog (I need to catch up). It is like you are sitting there explaining your thoughts to me. If you keep writing, I will keep reading. Wonderful post today, I will definately be using this when I work with teachers.

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  6. Ruth you are such an inspiration. I started following TWT last summer when I stumbled upon their site while searching for writing ideas and tips for myself and my classroom. I discovered Slices from the Sofa this March during their writing challenge and I have to say yours was one of the first “slices” I always looked for, and secretly hoped would comment on one of my slices. I think I felt a kinship because of first grade. Like you I’ve never thought of myself as a writer. I have always loved to write and had dreams of “someday” being published, and still hold that dream close. Also like you as soon as I brought my writing into the classroom I felt my kiddos became more connected and willing to write. Sadly I am the only one in my small school that has this outlook on writing. I would love to have a writing group to meet with and share ideas and feelings with about writing (hence my obsession with blogging).
    I am looking forward to hearing more from you, and maybe finding what your list of professional reading is for the summer (I now have a new book added to my list), and to following your “other” blog. I think you should let me make you a blog button! I am now a pro at it! Ha ha.

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  7. Professional blogging, when you’re out of the classroom (in the summer) is hard. Probably easier to focus on your personal writing. Glad you’ll be slicing with us all summer long too!
    Thanks for writing a guest post for us today Ruth.

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  8. Ruth, I have been reading your blog for a while, and love how you are so deliberate with what you do in your classroom. This post is full of good details about exactly what is going on, and how it interacts with your own writing. I am trying to persuade all the teachers I work with to write along with their students, & will use your post as one of my best arguments! I love how you gave the examples of these young students, like when you showed F. your idea notebook. Thanks very much for the inspiration.

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