Quiet Writers: What do they really need?
In a previous post, I shared writing gems that caught my attention. But, these gems were only some of the treasures I found. Hiding in the piles of writing were quiet writers, writers whose empty folders cried out for help. These writers became my focus for the next two weeks, and this post. Quiet writers cry out for help in all our classrooms.
Meeting Writers Where They Are
I looked at the sparse folders; stories with loosely connected events, stories started and finished on 1 page, and I started planning. I planned minilessons on story planning, guided writing groups on generating ideas and developing a story with a beginning, middle and end going across pages, and conferences where writers could talk about their writing. Each level targeted for particular students.
I demonstrated how writers might plan with a story map. The students were eager to participate; determining the topic and the many the events to tell the story. A few writers created a web, but in the days following, the excitement waned, and story webs disappeared. Webs were not the preferred tool for this group.
I gathered five writers whose folders held empty pages. I showed the writers how to write using a story web to collect and connect ideas, just as we had done as a class. I began the lesson by explaining how we were going to work together to create a story using the web we made in the minilesson. The writers were excited and eager to work with me. We started our writing, me with the pen and the students organizing the ideas from the class created web. We worked until the story was composed. I handed each student a page to illustrate and with this the lesson ended.
The next day I called the group together again to help the writers transfer their new learning to independent writing. As we started, I watched the writers struggled to find the pages of our story. I realized the writing we had done wasn’t important to them; they lacked ownership. Had I missed the mark in my analysis of the lack of work from these writers? What was it they needed from me? How could I best teach these writers?
I had to think quickly. The goal of MY lesson was to support writers in creating a story they wanted to tell, a story that mattered to them. So at this point I did what I am afraid I sometimes forget to do. I asked the writers to tell me what they needed?
“I can’t remember my story when I go home and then try to write it again tomorrow.”
What this writer needed wasn’t instruction in how to generate a topic or supporting ideas. He had all of these things. What he needed was a way to hold onto his thinking. So together we talked about his story, we wrote his ideas on post-it notes. As we talked, his excitement grew. Soon he was writing small, or talking small.
“Turkey tastes like a swamp with frogs and smells like barf!” He made sure we got this idea jotted down, “That’s funny, I should write that.”
As I left, I heard him tell his neighbor, “I got all my pages ready” as he began to write.
“I want to write about butterflies because I know a lot about them, but I have to think a lot and that takes me a long time”
This writer simply needed permission to take a break from her story. At the end of the next workshop, I found this in her folder. A personal narrative, craft, and onomatopoeias were hiding behind her fear of abandoning a story! I am pleased to see this writer writing freely!
“I want to tell you about my weekend, but I have to write in my folder.”
Each Monday students begin the day writing in their “Weekend News” journals. This writer didn’t know it was okay to carry this writing into the workshop and often abandoned stories. I assumed all the writers in our room knew they could bring weekend journal writing in the workshop.
I noticed this writer is learning to write small. An important step for a writer and to think I almost missed these new brave steps in writing.
Reading the work of the writers is just the start, teaching the writer, requires conversations and listening.