Demonstration Writing: Sometimes They Need To See “Writing Thinking”
We are cruising along in our memoir genre study in Room 202: mentor texts have been studied and discussed, craft moves have been noted and experimented with, and possible topics have been shared and grown into anchor charts to live on our walls and inspire us. Now, we are moving into flash drafting several ideas to see which is “the one” to grow into a published piece.
So far so good.
But, as the way writing workshop often works, just as you feel your students steadily moving along in a comfortable groove…WHAM! You hit a rut. That rut began with David, followed by John, and then Caitlyn, all requesting writing conferences with the same concern: “I get started, and I think I’m on a roll, and then I’m stuck…like, I don’t know where I’m going next!”
The four of us met on the reading rug to talk through ideas, to see if we could help clarify the writing path ahead. I brought my writer’s notebook along with me, and when it was my turn to share what I thought, I opened to an entry and talked through my thinking process as I begin to write. This was not the first time I had done this, but it was the first time a student listened and then said: “So that’s your writing thinking? I wish you could plonk that on a chart so I can see it.”
At first, I wasn’t sure I understood the distinction John was making between listening to my process versus seeing it. So, the four of us talked further, and I posed some questions of my own: at what point in their writing did they most commonly “get stuck”? what strategies had they already used to try to get going again? how would a visual representation of my thinking help to to move them forward in their own pieces? At their urging, we called a class conference to see how everyone else was doing and I shared the points made in our small group conference. As students went around our writer’s circle sharing some of the difficulties they were encountering, it became clear that though they had a general idea (some had even sketched out scenarios to help them along) when they began, they eventually found themselves straying off topic. They felt themselves losing the narrative thread, and the focus of the memoir piece.
So, we remained in the meeting area, and I turned to the easel. “Friends,” I said, “I am going to share what my thinking looks like when I start a writing piece. Writers like you and me often need more than just the seed of an idea to keep writing, we need some sort of road map of our writing thinking, so that we can do more than get off to a good start. We need to keep going. I know that having a road map like this really helps keep me going as a writer, so I’m going to put try to put that writing thinking on a chart – maybe this will help some of you. Could someone read a few of the sentence starters we shared the other day?”
A student turned to that particular minilesson and began reading until I paused at, “I came to an important realization that________ when…”. Since it is a well known fact in my class that I avoid New Jersey highways at all costs, I knew that this would provide the perfect memoir opportunity – one that would ring true, make them laugh, and also hold their attention. Quickly, I sketched out the way I moved from prompt to a plan for flash drafting an idea:
“Oh, I get it…you kind of went scene by scene, and you included the Ah – ha moment.”
“You sketched the idea just enough from start to finish so you’d know what to flash draft about.”
“You made sure you wouldn’t get stuck … at least not in the flash draft part.”
Would this help some of you? I asked. Would you like to give it a whirl? Alrighty then, off to work we go! Most of my students did give it a whirl, here are two:
We’ve had a few smooth days of planning and flash drafting so far. The intent is for my kids to use their flash drafts as a way to test out their writing ideas before they commit themselves to their memoir topic. Once they have experimented with their ideas, they will have a clearer sense of what they want their memoir pieces to say; then our work will shift to mini lessons that focus on craft moves, and extending their quick drafts with flashbacks and deeper details.
For now, however, I am content that making my writing thinking visible to my students has given them another tool to “get unstuck”.