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Family Writing Night

Each year, at open school night, I talked about the importance of writing workshop and keeping a writer’s notebook.  Now that I’m out of the classroom for four years, I’ve had ample time to reflect and I regret that I didn’t engage parents in some writing during open school night.  Reason being when it came time for parent-teacher conferences in November, I often found there were a lot of questions and conversation about writing, especially if a student wasn’t putting forth enough effort  in their writer’s notebooks.  During the parent-teacher conference, I often found there were lots of misconceptions parents, guardians, and other family members had about what counted as writing well based upon their own school experiences.  Here are a few things that I heard numerous times as a classroom teacher.

  • Some students’ families thought they should be given something to write about rather than having to come up with it on their own.
  • Some students’ families thought writer’s notebook entries have to be written with perfect penmanship.
  • Some students’ families  thought writing must be have proper punctuation and spelling to be considered teacher-ready.
  • Some students’ families thought all paragraphs had to have a topic sentence, three body sentences, and a concluding sentence.

Perhaps if I had engaged my students’ families with a family writing night prior to parent-teacher conferences, there would’ve been a greater understanding about the role the writer’s notebook, and writing in it daily, plays in writing workshop.  Perhaps if I invited my students’ families into school for a night of writing where they could try out some of the same strategies the kids learn in the first month of school, they would’ve been able to provide their children with better support at home.

Truth be told, I hadn’t given this much thought until mid-June of this year when I participated in Kristi Mraz‘s TCRWP Twitter Chat about parent involvement in writing.  (Read the Storify of the chat here.)  I started thinking about the idea of family writing night only after a few key Tweets.

  • Regina Bartels suggested hands-on parents’ nights.  This led me to suggest having translators (like my school in RI did) to help parents all parents access the information being presented.  Amanda Hartman offered up an idea to have workshops that ‘show’ and have parents and students working together so there’s a ‘try it’ part.
  • Shortly after that, I suggested:
    • We need to make daily writing as important as reading a book. Parents will need support about why it is important for their children to write daily.
    • Parents need workshops to gain confidence with writing.   They need help, just like students do, when we teach how to create a writing life.
  • Cornelius Minor told us he used to devote a lot of open school night time to writing with parents. He said, “they need to see they CAN do it too,” to which Maggie Beattie Roberts reiterated that we must convey the importance of daily writing to parents since “daily practice a must!”
  • Maggie also stated that teachers need to help demystify writing for parents; they need to show parents how writing is  interwoven into daily life.

After the chat that evening, I went back and thought about the things Regina, Amanda, Cornelius, and Maggie Tweeted. There is so much good that can come out of making parents our partners in writing instruction. Some folks have done it with having parents monitor at-home reading by requiring them to sign off on reading logs.  Why not encourage parents to write alongside their children for 10 minutes, share writing they do with their child, or just talk about writing with their kid?  I’ve come to believe true parent buy-in to writing workshop can only happen if we help “demystify writing for  parents,” as Maggie said. Many parents wouldn’t consider themselves writers. Therefore, if we want to have parents along for the journey as writing partners, then we have to go beyond telling them our expectations. We have to show them how to be involved so they will encourage their children to live like a writer outside of school too.

Have you held a family writing night as a classroom teacher or with a group of colleagues? Please share tips for making it successful below.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

13 thoughts on “Family Writing Night Leave a comment

  1. What a great idea on how to include parents in students’ academic lives! This could be a great learning experience for both the students and the parents, especially if they share what they wrote with one another. I can’t wait to try this out in my future classroom!

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  2. I love the idea of incorporating the family into writing because it allows students to see writing as something more than something just done within the walls of school. It helps make writing applicable to their lives, encourages writing and hopefully sharing from the family as well. Great idea!

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  3. I love this post, Stacey! My administrators are reading this post and we’re starting to brainstorm ideas for our Family Literacy Night. This post helped us shift our thinking from a “Reading night” to a “Writing night”! My wheels are turning. I love the idea of giving parents/guardians a notebook. They could easily do a couple of the “launching” entries that our students do in the beginning of the year. Such a great idea! I’m envisioning some talk/practice about how to comment on writing, too.

    Feeling inspired….

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  4. I have done a whole school family writing night for the past 4 years. I teach at a k-5 Title 1 school. Last spring we had 190 participants. We used a mentor text and then parents and kids wrote together (can write in English or home language) and then we bind their books as they leave. There are opportunities to share throughout the event. I tear up every year watching the families talk and write together.

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  5. This is something I really wish I could do. We have 10 minutes per subject area on our back to school night – and there is barely enough time to cover the basic issues that my sixth graders’ parents want and expect to know about (homework, grading system, etc.). But, I love the idea of a family literacy night. Now, that is something wonderful to begin hatching plans for!

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  6. I once did a family writing night for a high school (although I can image in it working well in elementary as well), where parents and caregivers came with their kids to the school auditorium. The kids all brought their writer’s notebooks and sat next to their grown-ups. The adults got a new writing notebook at the door with a pen (just a composition book and a Bic, but they loved it). Then I took the whole group through a speed version of the writing process. During the times the writers (adults and kids) talked to their partners, they talked together as families, with kids giving their parents hints, feedback, tips, and sharing their own writing with the parents. We also took some time to look together at some sample student work (process highlighted) across the grades, from different genres. It was really great to see the families writing together – the energy was very high, the kids’ confidence was amazing, the parents were so fired up about writing. Highly recommend!

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  7. This is a great idea! I have a friend who does a verbal story night with her children that could easily be turned into a fun, family writing night. They play a game with several first lines of a story on a wheel, each person spins the spinner and then has to create a story based on the 1st line that the spinner lands on. This 1st line prompt might be a nice compromise for parents who think that topics should be given.

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  8. Stacey,
    We had a literacy night. Every family member “built” a snack with graham crackers, frosting, and toppings and then each person wrote about their creation. We took pictures of each family grouping and published a book for the classrooms that participated. Many students loved to take that book home and read it with their family!

    I love your idea of having family members write along side each other. What fun to have “facing pages” written by two different people even if on different topics!

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