The 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, the 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?
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.