Structure + Choice

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately: How do we provide both structure and choice in writing workshop?

Both are essential to empowering young writers. Structure is necessary to lift the level of every writer in the classroom. Choice is crucial for writers to learn to write with energy and strength.

Yet they sometimes seem to work against each other instead of with one another.

Sometimes, in the name of structure, choice is sacrificed. Other times, in the name of choice, structure is forgotten.

I believe it is possible for structure and choice to live together in symbiosis. I’ve been pushing myself to notice how I allow for both as I lead writing workshops in kindergarten, third grade, seventh grade, and eighth grade. Here is a small list of my initial reflections.

  1. I listen more than I tell.
  2. I operate from the basic principal that students want to be readers and writers; therefore, their choices are reflective of what they believe about reading and writing. I want to get behind them and nudge them to become more effective readers and writers.
  3. I smile. I find myself enjoying students. I want students to know they are valuable and special. I show this by trusting them to be readers and writers.
  4. I do things that scare me. In workshop, I’m always teetering on the line of success and major failure. I’m coming to believe if I’m sure of success, then I’m not trusting students enough. I should be relinquishing enough control that I feel a little unsettled. If not, then I’m controlling too many of the decisions writers should be making for themselves.

Okay. This is why I write lists like this. This is what Harvey Daniels would call a WRITING TO LEARN experience. I’m using writing to learn more about teaching writers. (As a side note, I’m helping to lead professional development tomorrow around the topic of writing to learn.) Number four on my list is really big. I’ve been trying to catch that learning for years. Now that I finally put words to the thoughts, I’m understanding more. I’m thinking about things in new ways.  And I’m asking myself: Is that true? Is that really what I mean?

My heart is pitter pattering with this new learning. I’m itching to write more, to find out what else I know about the symbiotic relationship between choice and structure. I’m thinking about what I’m going to do in workshops tomorrow that scares me, and how my decisions will impact writers for the better.

{I hope you are inspired to write a list in order to learn more about teaching writers. Trust me, it feels really good to find out you know things you didn’t realize you knew. Happy writing.}