Creating writing museums

Last July, Bonnie Kaplan invited me to join the Hudson Valley Writing Project’s Summer Institute for a day.  I had been hearing so much about the work these teachers had been doing, that I didn’t hesitate even for a moment to say, “Yes!”…even though I knew it would mean getting up extra early in order to  journey from Paramus, New Jersey to  New Paltz, New York by 8 A.M.  It proved to be every bit as interesting and rewarding as I’d hoped it would,  so worth that extra early summer start to the day.


(The HVWP team – who wouldn’t want to spend the day working with this lively bunch!)

The structure of the workshop was designed to address issues we face as educators: how to introduce writing into the content areas, how to deepen our understanding of ourselves as writers so that we can encourage our students to be better writers, how to create meaningful learning opportunities that address specific Common Core strands.  Each participant had their own area of inquiry, but the expectation was that the group would work together to move this research forward – everyone was there to better themselves as educators, but to also better themselves as writers who practice the craft they teach.

We ended the day with an investigation of  our lives as writers.  The task: to track our development over time, using artifacts and examples of our writing, as well as items that had served to motivate and inspire us to write.  This was a fascinating exploration – it made me  think about the trajectory of my writing life: when did I really begin, what had motivated me, did my writing style or focus change over time and why.  Although I had thought about these issues here and there, this was the first time I had  attempted to map it out, and to use that map to better understand my journey as a writer.
                                                                       (a portion of my writing map – first sketch)
We used our maps and artifacts to create individual writing museums. These were  works of art for the project participants, who had brought along  old diaries, favorite books, poems penned in high school, and letters. Here are two (the first is Bonnie’s – her digital writing very much in evidence!):
Each writer explained their artifact and its influence on their writing, and we began to discover that each of us  possessed a writing life already, even though some of us did not think of ourselves as “writers”.  Love letters, travel journals, blogs, and professional writing – teachers write all the time, and enjoy doing so, and if we do, we can empower our students to feel the same way.  
All the way home, I thought about writing museums, and how I might introduce the idea into my sixth grade writing workshop.  This would be a wonderful way to start my writing workshop in September;   setting up a display of my own writing museum would allow my students to see that:
1. Yes, their writing teacher actually writes, and enjoys doing so.
2. There are many forms that our writing takes, each able to express a different dimension of our lives and our abilities.
3. Our writing lives and our reading lives are very connected – as a reading teacher, this is an important idea to get across to my kids.
So, on our very first day of writing workshop, I shared my writing museum with my kids: a collection of notebooks, letters, favorite books, scraps of poetry,   ipad with my blog to scroll through, and laptop with a half written slice of life (writers are always working on something).  My kids loved it.  As they circled around and examined my “writing life artifacts”, I realized that this was the most powerful message I could hope to get across to my students as we began our writing year together: writing is an important and valued part of my life, and it can be the same for each and every one of you, too.
At the end of the school year, I think I will turn the tables on my kids and have them create their own writing museums to share with their classmates, as we were doing here, that July day in New Paltz:
HVWP Writing Museum