Reflecting Through the Lens of Writing Process: Looking Back and Moving Forward

“Self-reflection is the school of wisdom.”  – Baltasar Gracian

I looked back into the eighteen sets of young eyes before me.  The fall sun had just slipped behind the clouds, and a slight chill now occupied the air.  I cleared my throat. “Well, um, good afternoon everyone. I’m Mr. Ball, and I’m going to be the new soccer coach.”  A few heads nodded, and some faces smiled. “So, uh, why don’t we begin with some stretching?” The year was 1994, and my first coaching experience had just begun.  This identity was new for me, and I can remember the palpable sense of uncertainty that gripped me that first day of practice.

Now, flash forward to the end of that first season.  Along with Keith, the coach of the other soccer team in our building, I found myself sitting in his science classroom, thinking back across those previous months.  What had gone well? What might I change for next year? Had I planned practices to be productive? What about other elements of coaching, like providing feedback or organizing logistics?  The truth is, it took awhile for me to see myself as a coach.  But it was not long before I discovered that a bit of self-reflection- that is, thinking about the different parts of a coaching role- helped me to not only view myself as a coach, but become stronger.

Reflection can help foster both an identity (e.g., writerly) and act as a discovery process for possible future goals. This is likely true for any endeavor, whether it be coaching soccer or writing.  This week, we as co-authors have been doing some thinking about the power of self-reflection. As Beth wrote on Sunday, “…self-reflection and goal setting will support student growth.”  One possible lens for reflection is the writing process itself. Just like I thought about the different parts of coaching a soccer team, we can think, along with our students, through the different phases of the writing process as areas to (1) notice change, (2) celebrate growth, and (3) consider next steps.  For example:

    • Volume: Even though ‘volume’ is not part of the writing process, it can be a helpful place to look.  Writers can remember their longest pieces of writing from this year and celebrate that volume, as well as begin to identify what acts as obstacles for greater volume.  The following questions might help push thinking:

 

  • Where are the places during the year I wrote a lot?
  • Where are the places I wrote the least?
  • What gets in the way of writing more?

 

Since writing is a skill learned in use, it is important that as teachers, we teach and reinforce the value of writing volume.  We learn by doing. And we get better at the things we do. This is true for writing, playing the piano, dancing, drawing, playing soccer- most anything.  Of course, volume is not the only thing, but quantity is part of the overall process of becoming a stronger writer.  Therefore, including it in a reflective process seems appropriate.

  • Rehearsal/Planning: When it comes to rehearsal and planning in writing workshop, it may be helpful to think back across the year and identify useful strategies (e.g., creating a timeline, sketching a story booklet, using box and bullets, etc.).  But possibly more important is supporting students in reflecting upon the practice of planning. At a recent Teachers College Saturday Reunion, keynote speaker and accomplished author Sarah Weeks taught us that writers ought to consider themselves archers who need to know where they are aiming.  “It’s wise not to start unless you know where you are headed,” she counseled (I paraphrase here). Questions writers might consider could be:
  • Am I the kind of writer who plans?
  • In what ways do I plan?
  • Do I plan all the time, or only sometimes?
  • Do I begin with a sense of where I’m headed?

I find that some young writers do not yet see the value in planning or rehearsal.  In these cases, it can sometimes be helpful to plant a seed by either sharing our own processes of planning as writers, or perhaps sharing the planning process of a professional writer.  Recently, writer Lynda Mullaly Hunt visited our school and shared her fascinating planning process, a process in which she plans her scenes across 3 x 5 index cards.  If students know planning is not just a “school thing,” but a “real life thing” writers really do, an element of authenticity is added.

  • Drafting:  Part of your work in writing workshop this year has likely been devoted to drawing attention to and supporting writers in developing stamina.  Some of the work I did with the young athletes on my soccer teams centered around developing the capacity to operate at game-time levels without becoming winded or tired; this is stamina. Similarly, writing teachers understand the value of an ability to write for longer, sustained periods of time.  During the drafting phase, many of us encourage students to “fast draft”, that is to spend a burst of time to get all ideas down on paper or digital document. At this late stage in the year, students can reflect on their stamina, leaning on such language prompts as:
  • “I used to . . . but now I . . .”
  • “At the beginning of the year I could/couldn’t . . . Now, when I sit down to write I notice. . .”

Just like reflecting upon volume, noticing and celebrating increased stamina can help support a growing positive narrative around writerly identity.

  • Revision:  In terms of the revision phase of writing, it might be important to support our students in reflecting on some of the ideas Betsy wrote about in yesterday’s post.  What are students’ beliefs and practices around revision?  Have students taken on a disposition for revision this year?  Or, as Betsy mentions, is revision done merely for the purposes of compliance?  One way to support student reflection within the revision phase of writing is inviting them to look back at student-facing checklists from across the year.  Those teachers leaning on the Writing Units of Study know that providing a checklist at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of a unit of study in writing can support writers in tracking progress toward personal goals and grade level standards.  The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project has posted an excellent video on how this type of lesson can look on their Vimeo site; check out this video here.

 

  • Editing:  While the advent of the common core standards has certainly not solved all problems around student achievement, one of my favorite features of the standards is idea that writers can become increasingly more sophisticated as they progress.  This is definitely a driving idea behind both the writing and the language standards. A visible path now exists, one that shows how complexity in writing and the use of conventions can become more complex as students move through their years of schooling.  While supporting students in reflecting on themselves as writers, teachers can highlight or list specific teaching around grammar and conventions. Or, if most work happened in small groups, writers can think across the year at ways they’ve become more sophisticated in this area.  
  • What can I do now grammatically that I could not before?
  • How has my punctuation use improved this year?
  • Where are places I still feel confused about writing rules?

By the end of my second season of coaching soccer, I found that many players had begun to address me as “Coach Ball” or simply just “Coach.”  While uncomfortable with this at first, I soon settled into this new identity and found it to be quite rewarding. Similarly, many of our students are likely not yet comfortable with their identity as “writers.”  Yet, I would argue that this is a principal goal for us as teachers of writing. Setting students up with opportunities to reflect on their growth and their change across the writing process, as well as building a vision for how the rest of this year could go (check out Kelsey’s post on independent writing projects if you haven’t already), can go a long way in supporting nurturing this incredibly important perspective.

For more on reflection and/or the writing process:

 

Giveaway Information

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. Thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a print copy of this book. If you have an international address, then Stenhouse will send you an eBook of Day by Day.)day-by-day
  • For a chance to win this copy of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, May 7th at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Melanie Meehan will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, May 7th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Melanie can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, our contact at Stenhouse will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, Melanie will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – DAY BY DAY. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.