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.
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.
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.
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.