How do you get to know the writers in your classroom at the beginning of the school year? When I still had my own classroom, I took a writing sample on the first day of school and then scored the sample using our district’s rubric. This first-day assessment gave me a good idea of which students used paragraphs or had good control of mechanics or wrote with detail. As I look back, though, I wonder if this was a sufficient way to really know my students as writers.
For example, if you were to really know me as a writer you might know:
- I write a lot of stories about my daughters
- I need a deadline to actually get words on paper
- I want to write a professional book for teachers
- I tend to write in loud-ish places like my kitchen table or my backyard
- I haven’t used my writer’s notebook in over a year
- I love to write and I hate to write and I love the way this dichotomy makes me feel
- I struggle to find my voice in nonfiction
- I have writing mentors such as Kate DiCamillo, Katie Wood Ray, and my colleagues here at Two Writing Teachers
- I’ve encouraged many of my colleagues to become writers
You would not know any of those things about me as a writer if I simply gave you a writing sample. You would have to talk to me (preferably over coffee) to know me as a writer. I regret not taking the time to understand my students better as writers.
I think it takes many weeks of writing and conversation and sharing to begin to uncover the writing identities of students. There is no quick and easy method. However, a writing survey at the beginning of the school year is a step in the right direction and can serve as a springboard for conversations to come. Some questions you might ask:
If you had to choose a room to write in, what would it sound like? Would it be silent? Would there be a TV or radio playing in the background?
If you could only write about one thing all year long, what would that be?
Imagine yourself fifteen years from now, a famous published author. What did you write?
Is there anyone whose writing you really admire?
Do you prefer to write with pencil/pen or on a computer?
Have you ever had a bad writing experience?
Do you know any writers?
Where do you think writers get story ideas from?
What does “living like a writer” mean to you?
As I think about using a writing survey in classrooms this year, there are three caveats I will keep in mind:
- There is no substitute for good conversation. This survey will serve as a conversation starter, not as an assessment.
- There will be many students who have no identity as a writer. Many students will be unable to answer some of these questions. That is okay, too – the lack of an answer is all the answer I need.
- The survey could be completed using pen and paper. It could also be completed digitally on a Google Doc or Google Form. A third option would be to use the questions as ‘interview questions’ and complete the survey with each student one-on-one over the first few weeks of school.
Taking the time at the beginning of the school year to learn about students in this way will help me be a more responsive and empathetic writing teacher all year long.
(For more on getting to know your student writers, don’t miss Beth’s thoughtful post from earlier this week.)
Literacy Coach, Reader, Writer