Growing a Classroom Environment Where Writers are Seen and Inspired

Each January, families with incoming kindergartners visit our school. My colleagues and I invite them into our classrooms after school and say:

“When you look around, we hope you can see the kinds of learners that share this space. Each day, when children enter our classrooms, they see themselves, they see their passions, they see their learning.”

Now, more than ever, a classroom needs to be a place where all children are seen. It may be the only place to be seen safely, to be seen for who they are, to be seen beyond what they look like.

When thinking of our own classrooms, we can ask:

If ______ did not come to school for a day, would they still be seen in the classroom environment?

Would they be seen in photographs, in portraits, in artwork?

Would their interests be seen in the library? In the topics being studied? Would their needs be seen in the classroom setup?

Would they be seen in the mentor authors being studied? In the tools created? In the work displayed? Would their thoughts and ideas be visible?

Becoming Visible

The more children become visible in classrooms, the more they become visible in learning. When constructing an identity, it transfers to writing, to artwork, to the kinds of books being read, to topics of conversation, to the roles played in communities.

As educators, it can feel important to nurture a child’s identity as a reader, a writer, a problem-solver, and so on. Rather than compartmentalize, we can shift our mindset. By helping each student develop a strong sense of self, it feeds the kind of readers, writers, and problem-solvers they are.

For example, my kindergartners discovered that Jaxson, is someone who lives and breathes dinosaurs. As a reader, Jaxson identified as researcher, constantly on the mission to deepen his understanding of extinct giants. As a writer, Jaxson identified as a teacher and creator, sharing his wealth of accumulated information and rich imagination. As a mathematician, Jaxson became an expert measurer, after constructing a life-size model of a baby apatosaurus. 

Strengthening Identity Through Writing

A place to make meaning of ourselves and the world around us, writing is a powerful tool for self-discovery.

Narrative writing connects us to our past, to the stories that have shaped who we are.

Informational and procedural writing allow us to become the experts, to learn and teach about our passions.

Persuasive writing is deeply tied to our emotions, often inspired by moments of injustice, driven by a need that calls for action.

Fictional writing feeds our imagination, turns the impossible into a reality.

Poetry awakens the artist inside. It takes us to a place where the rules we are bound to do not exist.

However, when idea-collection tools are stored in folders, we miss a valuable opportunity to make the diverse lives, passions, and experiences of our communities visible. Instead, we can rely on the classroom as a tool for making children, their identities, and experiences seen.

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Prior to each unit of study, families can help children make collages using photographs or drawings. To help kids collect ideas for stories, collages can include examples of important moments in each child’s life. Before a procedural writing unit, collages can include things a child knows how to make or  family traditions. For informational writing, a collage can include a child’s favorite things, places, and people.

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Each picture becomes an idea. Kids become inspired by each other’s pictures.

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Beyond writing workshop, the collages lead to exciting observations and stories for weeks.

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Identity webs remind writers of stories and topics that have shaped who they are. They can become topics and stories the child writes about. 

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By discovering what children want to learn about, we can help feed their curiosities with books and shape our curriculum to meet their interests. We can display topics they are passionate about as a reminder for when they are writing informational or persuasive texts.

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Documenting learning across the year provides an idea-generation tool for narrative, informational, and procedural writing.

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Documenting field trips or memorable shared experiences throughout the year can also be an idea-generation tool for writing.

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Photographs of shared experiences can be added to a class book that grows throughout the year.

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Documenting play centers throughout the year reminds children of all they have made when it is time to write procedural texts. The pictures can also support fictional or true narratives.

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After learning how to do something new, the class can record the process through a shared writing experience and store writing in a book that grows throughout the year.

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When a big topic arises in the classroom or community, it’s an opportunity for children to engage in persuasive discourse and writing, which we can make visible. Before taking down this kind of documentation, we can take a picture to store in a classroom binder for writers to use throughout the year, such as when they are in a persuasive unit.

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Topics that are talked about again and again become inspiration for each genre of writing, for pretend play, and for topics of books to  be included in the classroom library as mentor texts. A chart like this also becomes a high-interest word wall for writers. 

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Heart maps (an idea-generation tool from Georgia Heard) can be made and displayed throughout the year as a reminder for what’s important to each child.

 

When we make what matters visible, a classroom can be a place for children to be inspired, to see themselves as important, to make connections with others, and to see experiences that are similar and very different than their own.