Make Writing: A Book Review

Make Writing 2

In my third grade classroom, paper has been suddenly hard to find. Not so coincidentally, one of my students has become rather passionate about creating origami Star Wars characters. It’s catching on, as a few of his buddies are now creating Ewoks and Yodas with focus and fervor.  They’ve been inspired by the series, Origami Yoda, and I’ve even witnessed one of the students carefully watching a YouTube video on how to create one  particular origami character. There are many stories and epic battles being fought, in the imagination of my students who are physically creating characters with the fold of a paper. These same students have rarely been enthusiastic writers during writing workshop. Have I been missing a necessary connection between physically creating, or “making” and writing?

Angela Stockman’s Make Writing: 5 Teaching Strategies That Turn Writer’s Workshop Into a Maker Space (2016) has challenged me to see writing workshop with new eyes and fresh possibilities. Part of the Hack Learning Series, Make Writing is about creating time and space for students to do what matters to them, and finding their way to writing through those actions. Stockman writes, “When resistant writers are encouraged to make and share tangible things that matter to them- things that they enjoy designing and developing- writing is almost always a necessary and valued part of the process” (16). With this idea, my origami-making students wouldn’t have to put their characters away during writing time, and instead would use those characters as a springboard for their writing. As Oprah would say, an “Aha Moment.”

One challenge for me early on in the reading was to reframe my definition of “hacker.” I always thought “hackers” were people who broke into computer programs and caused havoc. It had a negative connotation for me.  The Hack Learning Series has defined a “hacker” as “…people who explore many things both in and out of the technology world. They are tinkerers and fixers. They see solutions to problems that other people do not see” ( 7). Mark Barnes explains, “The Hack Learning Series is a collection of books written by people who…see things through a different lens…They live to solve problems whose solutions, in many cases, already exist but many need to be hacked. In other words, the problem needs to be turned upside down or viewed from another perspective” (8).  With this new understanding of “hacking”, I could better appreciate the structure of the book and the spirit behind what it means to “hack a problem.”

hackers

In Make Writing, Angela Stockman shows us how we can “hack the writing process” through 5 different hacks. Each chapter focuses on one hack and goes through the underlying problem, how the hack would address that problem, practical tips for what you can do tomorrow, a blueprint for more full implementation of the hack, overcoming pushback (talking back to all the reasons you worry that the hack wouldn’t work), and a real story of the hack in action with students. The structure of the book was very helpful and made the reading user-friendly, with practical ideas for ways to create a maker space in writing workshop.

The book begins with an introduction and then starts with the first hack, which focuses on  “making writing” using legos, building in Minecraft, paintings, puppets and more as a doorway to creative expression, and yes, to writing. The second hack describes how to change an uninspired classroom design into a maker space. The third hack outlines how to help writers generate ideas through purposeful play and “tinkering.” The fourth hack is all about connecting writers with authentic audiences, and the fifth hack raises the issue of standards and curriculum and how to avoid standardization. Concluding thoughts tie the chapters together and invite the reader to connect with the author to share the ways you’ve tried making writing with students.

Photo from the WNY Writer's Studio, founded by author Angela Stockman

Photo from the WNY Writer’s Studio, founded by author Angela Stockman

Make Writing is a “MUST READ” for writing teachers. It is quick (less than 100 pages), inspiring, practical, and very current, as “maker spaces” are a hot topic in education today.  Stockman’s strategies tap into different learning styles and modalities and call to mind many of the Multiple Intelligences Howard Gardner described. These strategies can be used with all age levels, bring fresh energy to writing workshop, and allow for more students to find their voices as writers.  However, not every student would necessarily want to make writing in this manner.  Stockman writes, “Please do not treat making as a requirement for all students…Making is an invitation, not an expectation” (18).  Students should have the freedom to make writing….or go about it in the more traditional sense if they wish. Not only do I highly encourage you to read Make Writing, I also encourage you to check out Angela Stockman’s WNY Young Writer’s Studio and follow her Facebook page for almost daily writing inspiration! The picture above was taken from the WNY Young Writer’s Studio and is a perfect example of tools you could have available for students as they “make writing.”

Stockman writes, “For generations, educators have expected writers to sit down, quiet down, and write down perfect final products. Making writing a physical and highly collaborative endeavor requires us to embrace messiness, unpredictability, noise, and a whole new set of challenges and complications” (30). There is no fail-proof, precise formula for implementing a writing maker space, but reading this book will create a vision for what it could be, questions, ideas, and practical tips for jumping in and giving it a go.  For all of those origami-making students, for all those kids who don’t believe their passions can come alive through writing, for all of the kids who need to move and manipulate and compose in non-traditional ways…for them, I hope you read Make Writing and create new pathways to success for your writers.