A Change Will Do You Good

Staring at my bulletin board in June, I had a decision to make. Finishing up my third year in third grade, my writing bulletin board had remained the same for all three years. It was entitled “Voices in 215” (our room number) and had page protectors hanging for each student, a place for every child to display his/her writing throughout the year, changing out the writing as we explored different genres. As I looked at the board that day in June, I had to be honest with myself. It was looking a little worn and faded. And even worse, the board was not catching the attention of the students. It was kind of like wallpaper- not the dynamic, interactive celebration of writing I hoped it would be.

I decided I would take down the bulletin board and try again- even though this meant more hours of work setting up my classroom and enlisting the help of my mom, the best bulletin board putter-upper I’ve ever known. Here is what I came up with ( with my mom’s expert cutting and stapling):

Yes, it is mostly bare at the moment, awaiting students, their ideas and our co-created charts. The title of the board is “Our Writing Matters” because it’s what I believe.  I want students to know their stories, ideas, questions, and passions matter. We don’t write for a school assignment- we write for life. We write for our families, our friends, our communities, our world. I have my favorite quote from The Lorax standing beside our board: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot- nothing is going to get better- it’s not.” I want my students to connect those ideas- their writing has the power to make the world a better place.

I worried about not having student writing featured, so I decided to make a section of the board to feature mentor authors- both published and student written. My first published author to celebrate is Drew Daywalt, author of The Day the Crayons Quit, The Day the Crayons Came Home, and The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors. Our first unit, given to me by my district, is foundational skills in writing. My goal is to show students that there are important reasons we learn about punctuation and conventions. One reason is punctuation creates voice! The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors is hysterically funny and uses punctuation to make the characters words come to life. Early in the year, I want my read alouds to bring our community together joyfully and Drew Daywalts books are total crowd pleasers (which I can refer back to for different mentor text purposes! A sneaky win!)

For the student mentor piece, I will be on the lookout for writing I can celebrate. My idea is to highlight one student’s work, place it in the sheet protector, and invite other students and visitors to the room to leave a positive post-it note near the writing. This will help me to be more intentional about finding the gem in each student’s writing and giving each student a chance to teach others about writing. (If you want to know more about student writing as mentors, Lisa Eickholdt’s book Learning From Students is full of excellent thoughts and ideas!)

The table near my board shows a blue bin and a purple bin- on the floor there is a red, orange, yellow, and green bin. This year, I ditched student and teacher’s desks! My students have tables now and more flexible seating options but need a place to store all their materials. These bins will house their writing notebooks, folders, and any other supplies they need for writing workshop. They are easily accessible so if students want to grab their notebook and write at other times of the day, they can do so! My mantra “Writers are brave” still hangs near the board. It is brave to put your words out there for others to read and judge, to share part of your self with an audience of readers. Brian Kissel’s When Writer’s Drive the Workshop and Patty McGee’s Feedback that Moves Writers Forward reminded me that we need to give students opportunities to share and ask for the feedback they need. We need to teach our young writers the kind of feedback they can ask for and as teachers, we need to use our words to affirm what students are doing and gently nudge them towards ways to grow as a writer.

Changing things up can mean extra work and moving away from what you’ve always done. It can also breathe new life into spaces and might move you closer to what you are trying to achieve. In this case, a bulletin board that wasn’t being looked at has been transformed to a space where authors and students writers are celebrated and co-created charts can serve as reminders to students. My goal is to create a classroom that makes visible my values and philosophy towards teaching and learning, and in this case, writing. Have you changed any of your writing areas this year? How does your classroom reflect what you believe about teaching writing? Please continue the conversation in the comments!