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Family Literacy Night: Writing Together

Earlier this school year at Back to School night, our hallway bulletin boards were filled with Slice of Life writing, along with blank Post-It notes for parents to write comments.  The teachers noticed that several parents had written comments such as, “Great story, but you need commas” or “Nice job.  Fix your capital letters.”   We wondered how to help parents understand that this writing was not meant to be perfect or polished.  As teachers, we talked about the kinds of comments that would help nudge these kids as writers.  Additionally, since we expect our students to be writing in their writer’s notebooks at home, we knew we needed to give parents the tools to respond more thoughtfully to their child’s writing.    Hence, the idea for Family Literacy Night: Writing Together was born.  In the past, our Family Literacy Nights have typically focused on reading.  We have hosted read-ins, author visits, and make-and-take nights.  This year, we would focus on writing!

We invited parents and students in third through sixth grade.   The students brought their writer’s notebooks, and each parent was given a brand new writer’s notebook as a gift.

New parent notebooks
New parent notebooks

As the host, my goal for the evening was essentially to educate parents on writer’s notebooks: why and how we use them, what goes in the notebook, what doesn’t go in the notebook.   We began with a read aloud of Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon.  I talked briefly about how the writing process has changed for young writers.

Writing Process
Then
Writing Process 2
Now

I showed them a glimpse into my own personal writer’s notebook.  (Click to see video.)

The kids had an opportunity to turn and talk to their parents about writer’s notebooks.  We overheard kids saying such things as:

~ I make lists of things I notice and want to write about.
~ Sometimes I make a quick sketch in my notebook when I’m trying an idea out.
~ A notebook is for practice, to try stuff out.

A couple of kids shared examples of entries they had recently made in their writer’s notebook.  One girl had written a list of “Ten Things I Wish People Would Learn from Me.”  Another girl had written a flash draft of a story idea, but then she had reread her original entry and written her new thinking and reactions in the margin.  Smart stuff.

The evening was going well, I thought.  Parents were nodding politely and smiling.  Kids were happy to be there.

Next, we took some time to write together.

Kids and parents each made a list of family memories in their writer’s notebooks.  After a few minutes, they shared their lists with each other.  Then, each family chose one memory to write about.  Both student and parent wrote about the same memory, each from their own perspective.  This is precisely when the energy in the room changed from compliance to engagement.  The teachers circulated from table to table to listen in.  Families wrote and laughed and talked and wrote and laughed some more.  They asked each other questions and wrote and shared and talked and talked.  They wrote about baby brothers, hilarious dances at weddings, proud moments at award ceremonies… a community of writers formed instantly.  After writing time was over, a few writers volunteered to read their writing aloud.  One brave mom read her piece about when she found out she was pregnant.  She wrote about how her older daughter was so embarrassed.  The older daughter rolled her eyes, declared “I was not embarrassed!”, and then shared her piece about the tears of joy she cried when she learned her mom was pregnant again.  They were sharing their stories as writers.

To close the evening, I spoke briefly about how parents could respond to their child’s writing.

How to Comment

I encouraged them to write together, as a family, for at least 10 minutes each evening.  I know that some of them will.  The goal for the evening had been accomplished in a more authentic way than I could have imagined.   They didn’t need me or my presentation; they just needed to write together!

I knew by the sharing and laughter that parents and children had bonded through their stories.  I knew that parents were beginning to understand the power of a writer’s notebook because they had begun to fill the pages with their own words.  I knew that parents would respond more thoughtfully to their child’s writing because they had written themselves.

Dana Murphy View All

Literacy Coach, Reader, Writer

20 thoughts on “Family Literacy Night: Writing Together Leave a comment

  1. This is such a great idea! Do you think a similar idea would work with older kids (I teach 8th grade)? We are really trying to increase family involvement in my district. Some elementary teachers were thinking of hosting a family night, but instead of writing, the parents would participate in a reading lesson with their children. Some were concerned that no parents would show up. I am wondering how your turn-out was? I see that you sent out an invite – any other ideas for encouraging parents to come?

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    • Hi, Marielle. Thanks for your comment! Yes, yes, yes – I definitely think you could do this with 8th graders and their families!

      Historically, we usually have a rather low turn-out for events like this. We invited all the families from 3rd – 6th, so we invited well over a 150 families. We had approximately 15-20 families in attendance that night.

      Some ways to encourage parents to come: offer raffle prizes and a free gift (the notebook), have snacks, send multiple invites and reminders home. I think, though, most importantly is to talk it up with the kids. If kids are excited, they’ll encourage their parents to come.

      Good luck! Let us know how it works out!

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  2. Fabulous! Every family literacy event I have been a part of has focused on reading. This is great. And you are correct, some of them will write as a family every night. How powerful! Thank you for sharing. I’m tweeting this link.

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  3. It’s wonderful you identified a problem (comments devoid of depth or that focused on grammar) and found a way to engage parents, students, and teachers to find a resolution to the problem by launching a family writing night. Not only did you grow a community of writers that night, but you probably inspired people who didn’t think they could write to just do it (& write).

    Will your school host future family writing nights to build upon the success of the first one?

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  4. I was just googling ‘families writing together’ and came upon your blog post! I am organizing a fam lit night this week and was looking for a handout idea about families writing together. May I use your graphic ‘How to Comment on Your Child’s Writing’? I will cite you of course.

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  5. The gift of time. It’s a great thing isn’t it? Your gift of time along with some guidance and direction is going to go a long way toward cementing some writing habits in the lives of your students and their families. Sounds like a great evening with an even greater purpose.

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    • Thanks. I wasn’t sure either at first. Our event lasted one hour which seemed like a good amount of time. Start by making an invite – it will inspire you to get planning! Good luck!

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  6. What a great learning opportunity for the parents, and bonding moment. I hope that parents will try writing together with their children at home. Thank you for sharing.

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  7. Sounds like a beautiful evening, Dana. I love this: “They didn’t need me or my presentation; they just needed to write together!” I used to have parents write during my open house evenings, then I would ask them to e-mail the piece, and together with their child’s writing I would put it together in a book for everyone. It was always a lovely time, and good for parents to know also how much thinking their children were doing in the writing. Thanks for sharing this idea-might be fun for me to do with a bigger group!

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  8. Dana, I love this post! It’s so important to involve families–and too often support for parents and caregivers tapers off in the upper grades, so it’s so great that this night was for the families of older kids. Thanks for including a video tour of your notebook too – what a cool idea!

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  9. What a powerful night of writing, sharing, and learning. I once had the parents come together with my students to write for grandparents’ day, students writing about grandparents and parents writing about their parents. It was powerful indeed. I need to look for a way to bring this event into my present school setting.

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