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Writing to Know Your Learners

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 10.31.51 PMThe opening days of school are as exciting as they are terrifying for students and teachers. We enter the learning space tentative and reserved wondering what the year will require of us, and as the teacher, I feel the weight of it all. How will I ease these tensions so we can be comfortable and feel safe to take risks?

Getting to Know Your Students

Writing workshop is a great place to begin getting to know one another, and ourselves, as learners. Some students walk in the door sharing stories and ready to write an autobiography while others may not yet be eager to put pencil to paper, and all the places in between.

In the first weeks of the writing workshop I encourage the students to share stories with friends, read books, talk about things they like to do, and explore the writing spaces and tools in our room. I want the kids to know one another, the space, the tools and their peers. I want to know their preferences as learners and their interests as young people.

As writers begin sharing stories with others, they find common interests and begin to make friends and discover stories for writing. As students build connections with each other, I am getting to know the students. I see their interests, hobbies, comfort level, preferred friends and personality. This is just the information I need to ensure our classroom environment will feel safe and encouraging for all. I bring books into our room to reflect the interests of the writers. I design lessons to meet the learning styles of the writers and provide opportunities for writers to work in pairs and independently.

Tools and Spaces

Equipped with stories, friends and a classroom environment that reflects the needs of the writers, IMG_5286the students are ready to learn their preferred tools and what makes a good writing space. Some writers want to be in a space with no distractions, others want to sit in the middle of the floor with the weight of the classroom surrounding them, others at tables, some at standing spaces and others under tables like they’re retreating to cave. Writers learn to consider many factors in finding a work space:

  • Are there too many people around me?
  • Can I keep my mind on my writing in this space?
  • Do I have all the tools I need?
  • Am I physically comfortable?

As writers determine their optimal learning space they are also learning to survey the choice of writing tools. Pens, pencils, colored pencils, crayons, markers, and
technology. Writers are encouraged to try a few tools while thinking about how these tools affect their work:

  • Do they help you share your message?
  • Do they distract you?
  • Could you use them in other ways?
  • Can you use more than one?   Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 10.23.31 PM

Writers need to feel ready to write and knowing where, what and how you will begin this thing called writing is an important start. Space and tools are unique to the writer and can change from day to day. Respect this and allow the opportunity for each writer to search and make choices for writing.

4 thoughts on “Writing to Know Your Learners Leave a comment

  1. I love not only the careful consideration you give to space and tools, but also the opportunity and words to teach students about these important considerations!! I will savor this post and use those important questions to help students make choices for themselves at school and home.


  2. I love the gentle way you describe your learners and the freedom you give them to make choices. When I taught kindergarten, I was very nervous to hand over that freedom. I assigned spots at the rug and kids only wrote at tables. How do you help young writers to stay on task with such freedom? I am really working on giving up control or at least being better about it, but the idea of young children writing under a table still terrifies me (lol). I would love to read a post about how you help them to work diligently and make such good choices about where they sit, what they work on, and the tools they use. You are awesome!


  3. Terrified. Nervous. Excited. Not just students. Teachers, too! Thank you for giving voice to what so many of us are feeling in these first days. It helps me to know I’m not alone! I must have selective amnesia because each year I forget just how hard the first days are and how stressed I am about establishing our community so learners will feel safe, happy and able to grow. I appreciate your thoughts on how we learn about our students, and how students are learning about themselves and each other. I was picturing my students yesterday as they chose to sit at tables, on carpet squares, and stools, spread all over the room. It was one of the first steps to building our learning community and it settled some of my anxious feelings and made me feel excited for the year ahead. Thanks for sharing these thoughts!


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