About the same time every day the room is filled with anticipation. The transition between workshops is a bit quicker. They appear a bit more attentive; eager to start the next phase of our day. I’m reminded the minilesson needs to remain small because they want to write. Most minilessons start with a mentor text to work with. We might work on an anchor chart to hold our thinking about writing. Transitioning to independent writing is done with eagerness. There might be some chatter along the way as they settle in and gather materials and then there’s the sound of engagement.
My students love writing this year. They are passionate about this time of our day together and they are disappointed if our schedule prevents this from happening. I’ve actually had to skip the minilesson just to ensure they can work on writing. On those days, I learned I had to frontload the amount of time we could squeeze in because if it’s not long enough there was a disappointed groan from the community. This year writing workshop feels different in our classroom. I love teaching writing but something feels different this year. There’s more passion, more interest, more satisfaction for my students and myself.
I began to wonder what was causing this new refreshed drive writing workshop has in my room this year. I thought about my new students. While they are different each year (I’m still teaching second grade.), they came with the same skill set as before. They have the same interests second graders typically have. I realized I took my summer reading of Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher to heart and made time for “greenbelt writing”; writing and writing time that is protected and in its natural environment. Writing from us and our students that is real, authentic, informal, comfortable, personal and filled with joy/passion.
I have a confession. While giving my students choice within narrative, informational, and opinion writing I still had an umbrella over our work; I was guiding their writing and hoping for a specific outcome. This is part of our curriculum and necessary. We need students to have cycles where they are writing these pieces to grow. Putting the umbrella away and starting the year with “greenbelt writing” has been the driving force for this renewed love for writing. I have students writing how-to series books, new adventures for characters we have fallen in love with during read aloud, and books capturing their memories of being seven or eight years old. Students are finding writing topics quicker and producing more. Students are choosing to write narratives, informational pieces, and how-to books all on their own. I had five nudges after reading Joy Write and I believe I’ve accomplished the first four already;
- give my writers moments of freedom, finding a balance genre standards
- use greenbelt writing as a way to get to know my students, as people
- remember writing workshop was not intended to be formulaic or extremely structured
- encourage, embrace, celebrate low-stakes writing
- find the humor and try to enjoy feral writing students may produce
The last nudge is one I need a little more time with but might be making progress with as of last Friday. One of my boys shared with me he just wrote a book for his friend in our room and he mentored it after a character he likes to get from the school library: Diaper Baby. His illustrations and humor were silly but this silly brought joy to these two friends and made us all laugh. Writing is joyful this year.
This post was written by guest-author Mandy Robek, a second-grade teacher in Ohio.