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.