The last quarter of the school year brings gifts all its own – it’s a time to celebrate all the investment that has been made during the first three quarters: our students have a sense of independence and ownership of their learning, and they are ready, willing and able to spread their wings and fly on their own…with a bit of guidance and encouragement. I save two genres for this particular time in the school year – digital writing experiments, and the multi-genre writing project.
By this time of year, my students have cycled through the following units of study:
- personal narrative
- feature article
- persuasive essays and letters
- photo essays
- and, from the very first week of school, we’ve also written:
- book reviews
- a slice of life once every week
- experiments in digital storytelling
So, we’ve explored many types of writing in an organized, methodical, predictable writing workshop way: immersing ourselves in mentor texts, selecting topics and ideas that move us, drafting, revising, editing and re-editing, and finally publishing each genre to the happy fanfare of writing celebrations. And, as we arrive at the last quarter of the year, we eye each other and ask…now what?!!…and the answer is: The Multi Genre Writing Project. In a nutshell, this is the time of year in which we look back over all the different ways in which we’ve learned to write effectively and beautifully, and flex our well toned writing muscles to show what we can do. On our own (with a bit of guidance and encouragement).
Two wonderful books opened my eyes to the possibility of this writing project:
Camille Allen, in her book The Multigenre Research Paper:Voice, Passion, and Discovery in Grades 4-6 , describes the essential idea behind the venture this way:
“The best way I can describe a multigenre paper is to say that each piece in the paper utilizes a different genre, reveals one facet of the topic, and makes its own point…The paper is instead a collage of writing and artistic expression with an overarching theme that engulfs and informs the reader.”
And Penny Kittle, in Write Beside Them, describes multigenre writing as:
“At its core, multigenre means letting go – letting writers decide. If the territory drives you to write, then I trust you to determine how to write about it…The writing helps us see and feel, not just know the facts. That’s the essence of multigenre work – a broadening of understanding through the use of different forms of writing.”
Last year, I experimented a bit with the multigenre project, trying to figure out how it would look in a sixth grade classroom and trying to answer some thorny questions: how much freedom in topic choice? how many genres to throw into the mix? Some things worked quite well (yes, freedom in topic choice works – but sixth graders need parameters), and some things did not (my kids were able to work with success when I limited the genres to four). This year, I am armed with lessons learned, and my kids are excited to begin.
Penny Kittle writes about introducing this project with a dramatic classroom scene – a police officer arriving to issue a bench warrant for her arrest on a traffic violation. That certainly got the attention of her high school kids! We launched in a quieter way, by reaching into our writers notebooks and writing portfolios in search of our burning questions – what issues and topics had we written about the most? wondered about the most? wanted to keep writing about the most. Each student came up with a list of three, to be narrowed to down one.
The genres to choose from:
Last year, in my enthusiasm to allow my kids maximum freedom, I allowed them to choose as many of the genres as they wanted. Big mistake. In their enthusiasm, they wanted to take on everything, and we were pressed for time (the only drawback to the fourth quarter of the year is that when it ends, it ends – there is no more borrowing time). So, this year my kids have to pick four genres from our menu:
- personal narrative
- feature article
- persuasive essays and letters
- book reviews
- a slice of life once every week
Once my kids have chosen their topics and genres, we meet to confer about feasibility and time frame. We have five weeks to work with, so each student completes a planning proposal:
This gives us a framework in which to focus our topics, organize time, and set project parameters, all three of which are necessary to make sure that my kids have the best chance of creating meaningful work that they can be proud of – not something we are rushing to complete in the waning days of the school year when both time and stamina are running out. Once topics have been chosen, and we’ve met to confer about the planning proposal, we number each genre in the order that makes the most sense: most time-consuming to least time-consuming, which ensures that the project will be completed in time.
The daily minilesson is replaced with a short piece of mentor text – a poem, an extract from a memoir or nonfiction text, an editorial, a personal narrative. Since every student is working on something different, the mentor text serves as an inspiration piece, something to listen to as a writer and tuck away for reference. And then we write, confer, meet with writing partners to share and nudge, and then write some more. As each piece of the project is completed and polished, it is filed away for our final writing celebration.
Some current multi-genre proposals:
From Thomas, a baseball enthusiast:
A feature article on Jackie Robinson
A memoir – his first MLB baseball game
An editorial about the need to make the selection of summer travel baseball teams “more fair” (I have a feeling that I’m going to learn a lot about the politics in youth baseball through this)
A narrative poem about the first game of the summer leagues
From Koji, who wants to celebrate his Japanese heritage:
A “Where I’m From” poem
A personal narrative about going to his grandparents for a part of every summer
A feature article about the cherry blossom trees in Washington, D.C.
An opinion piece comparing Japanese schools to American schools
From Lacey, a gymnast:
An ode to her gymnastics center
A letter to our school Superintendent, proposing to have gymnastics as a middle school sport
An article about Nadia Comaneci – her hero
A photo essay about her gymnastics routine on Tapestry
The Writing Celebration
This takes up the last week of school, and we need every moment of it to share each aspect of everyone’s project. It’s a celebration of our multigenre project, but it’s also the celebration of how far each of my students has traveled as a writer in the space of a year. It’s the perfect way to cap a year of writing workshop.
13 thoughts on “Independent Writng: Multi-genre writing projects to celebrate a year of writing workshop”
Tara, what fun for your students to have so many choices. As others have said, I love that you value pieces from the Writers’ Notebooks and then begin the planning with some structure. What a beautiful way to set the students up for some summer writing as well. I wonder what they will see as possibilities this summer!
LOVE this . . . wish I had more time to implement this idea for this school year, but I’m archiving it for next year 🙂
I’ll have our projects up later on, Jamie, so you will have some samples to show your kids, too.
Your multi-genre projects are a fantastic way to lift the level of the work students are expected to produce at the end of the year. It’s clear your students are engaged in the process because they have some say over what the end-product will look like. I LOVE the examples you shared of the types of pieces your students are putting into their projects. I can’t wait to see how they turn out in June!
Looking forward to sharing these, Stacey! I am as excited as the kids, I think.
I loved the way you pulled this together with just enough structure to make the deadlines, and the freedom that will empower and motivate Tara. So funny, I never thought to call it a multi-genre project, but I used to do this with my class and labeled it their anthologies of writing. As you described, they needed a theme, to include different kinds of writing, and so on. It is such an important ‘cap’ to the year’s work. I was especially impressed that each of your students’ example included some kind of persuasive piece. That, my friend, is empowerment! Terrific post!
Wasn’t that great about the persuasive piece?! I would have thought that with all the practice we did for our state tests, that they would have been DONE with the persuasive…but I was wrong!
Tara, I love hearing all you do with your 6th graders, in all of your posts. What a treasure to be able to tap into your thinking on a daily basis. Today’s was especially meaningful. Tom Romano (and Camille and Penny) extended my notion of multi-genre many years ago. Having students look back into their WRNotebooks for those burning issues and topics that matter to them is so important. For Arthur it was chess. Keerthi: women having the right to choose their own marriage partner. For Ben: sanctioning football in our school district. For Madi: eating disorders. Like Vicki Vinton I worry about CC leading teachers/students away from multi-genre. Yet, this kind of writing encompasses all that matters most in a variety of ways– kids are analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating, comprehending… and extending their notions of a topic in so many ways. When we look at something through so many different perspectives, we deepen our understandings. Multi-genre gets kids reflecting and deepening their understandings in such creative ways. It lets them tell their stories in an engaging, persuasive way. It lets them tell the story of what matters to them. It leads them to trying to answer their own questions. It’s what I want for kids. In the latest book I just finished (ReadWriteTeach) I ended with Madi’s multigenre piece precisely because her writing speaks to so many other adolescents, and for all the reasons you cite in this post– it is the perfect way to gather their thinking and celebrate a year of writing.
So honored that you stopped by to share your thoughts, Linda! I’m looking forward to reading your new book and placing it next to your others – the guidebooks of my teaching life. I loved this part of what you shared especially: “It lets them tell the story of what matters to them. It leads them to trying to answer their own questions.” I think we are taking away our children’s capacity to do this in many areas of our curriculum as a result of interpretations (often narrow and faulty, I believe) of the CCS, just when the world they live in demands that they ask questions, figure out what they think, try to come to terms with what matters to them. I can’t wait to read Madi’s multigenre piece!
Love, love, love that multigenre projects are alive and well in your classroom, Tara! I was introduced to them years ago by Tom Romano, whose book Blending Genre, Altering Style you should definitely check out if you don’t already know it. Kids tend to love them and often invest an enormous amount of time on them—I worked with a high school teacher, for instance,who had a student who created stationary from a Buenos Aires hotel for letters she was writing as part of her multigenre piece on Eva Peron. Unfortunately they seem like a hard sell these days because they don’t fit neatly into the CCS, so it’s good to know they haven’t been forgotten!
Tom Romano’s book figures prominently in Penny Kittle’s book, so I’ve bought and set it aside for summer reading, Vicki. Interesting about the issue with CCS alignment – perhaps this is also why it’s a hard sell among my colleagues as well. You are right about how kids love this project – mine are so excited to begin!
Tara, you are such a wonderful mentor for me. I am copying much of this article to use next year. It’s too late for us as we only have 3 more days together. School actually ends in two weeks, but that last week is full of awards, splash day, etc.
How many weeks do you spend on this last project? Do you allow them to pull out pieces they have already written to include?
Every year at the end of the year I lament about what we didn’t do. But many of my students will return to me next year (all but the 6th graders who move to middle school.) Thank you for giving me an arc of a year to implement with more intention next year.
Thank you, Margaret! We spend the last five weeks on this project – all the way until the end of the school year (which is a long one, here in New Jersey!). And yes, we pull writing pieces from our portfolios – unfinished ones, and ones my kids feel they would like to improve upon. One of the things I like best about this unit is that it does allow for this kind of revisiting of writing, so that my kids see that their writer’s notebooks and portfolios are, in a sense, always alive with possibilities.
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