What Are You Doing to Encourage Ownership?

This past week I had the privilege and opportunity to work alongside teachers and students at Parma Elementary, listening to the amazing Linda Urban. She led us in a writing exercise that opened my mind and threw words out of my pen. It was a freeing moment. One that I wanted to replicate with my students. She referenced Lynda Barry and the book What It is? as the place where the exercise was discovered.

Before the lesson: Create a list of nouns, put them in a bag and choose one, or let a student take one out of the bag. I chose the word, playground.

Take a minute or two and write down a few memories or connections you have to that noun.

Choose one moment that you connect to the most, circle it and put yourself back in that moment.

Ask these questions and think about and/or write down the answers. As an adult I wrote them down, but just visualizing the moment based on the questions might be more appropriate depending on the person/student.

Example questions:

Where are you?

What’s above you?

What time of day is it?

What’s to your right?

What’s under your feet?

Who’s with you?

What do you hear?

What is behind you?

What happened right before this moment?

What’s the temperature?

What do you smell?

What’s in front of you?

Jane's Notebook

This is my third grade daughter Jane’s notebook following the first portion of the exercise. I am lucky enough to have her for one hour of writing this year.

Write for 7-10 minutes about this moment, beginning with the words: I am…

Write as though it is the present moment.

Linda Urban guided us through this exercise and writing about one of  my childhood moments was a wonderful experience. Linda also told me a few other wise words to live by. 

  • The first scribble in a notebook is the most powerful. It takes away the perfection and creates a place to play. A place to make messes.

  • Practice writing observation skills that may be random and disconnected. They can connect to something later.

  • When we only give external approval and praise to a student they rely heavily on feeling as though they have talent. Once that external validation is absent they lose their confidence.

  • Terrible, terrible writing can lead to important writing later.

  • “We want the notebook to be recess.” Freedom is craved, but we need to give it in order for students to feel it and develop.

The last statement spoke to me the loudest. “We want the notebook to be recess.” Wow. We want them to feel so much ownership and so much enjoyment from writing that the place they put their thoughts in is like recess. That is my challenge this year. To give students freedom, among all the standards and directions I give them, also give them freedom to be who they are and create messes.