Empowering Writers

I know that for me as a writer, I do my best work within certain conditions. I like to have a cup of coffee by my side. I don’t like music while I’m writing. My best creating comes in the morning between the hours of five and eight. If I need to hold onto an idea, I’m good with using my notebook or a sticky note. If I’m struggling with a section or an idea, I benefit with a thinking partner and verbal rehearsal.

As we approach the end of the year, it could be a great time to challenge students to think about who they are as learners, what helps them hold on to new concepts, and how they do their best work. That being said, this knowledge could empower students at any point in the year.

One way we can help students think about their learning is to teach them about goal setting. I created the chart below with a sixth-grade classroom.

This chart was created with a Grade 6 writing classroom as we talked about the importance of goals in all aspects of learning.

We talked about the importance of goals and how much it helps when we know what we’re working on. Students recognized the importance of writing checklists that they could use not only to say they’d done something, but also to determine what they were working on. We’ve written several times about the writing checklists from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP), and here’s one of those posts.

Several of the students also referenced the genre-specific goals and techniques cards that TCRWP created to accompany their middle school writing units of study. Stacey has written about them here. These tools offer pictures of specific writing goals on one page, with another whole page filled with images of how those goals can be achieved with specific techniques and craft moves.

Another important strategy we can teach students involves having students make their own tools to support their learning. In this classroom, the teacher created spiral-bound booklets for each students, and taught them to make “flipbooks.” One side was for reading, and the other side was for writing. Whenever there was a lesson, she gave them time to create a tool for themselves to hold on to the concept. She had a supply bin full of sticky notes, small envelopes, and special pens for the students to engage in their tool-making. While some of the tools were simple– but effective– some of the students chose to make elaborate tools. These spiral bound booklets became valued resources over time, as students realized how beneficial it was to look back through the artifacts of their learning.

A student-made tool in a flipbook that was created to hold on to the ways we think of and plan stories.

One more important concept to involve students in is how they learn. My high school daughter knows that she needs to write out her notes; keyboarding or receiving someone else’s notes don’t work for her to retain and understand concepts. With a student I’ve been working with one-on-one, we’ve created his own personal chart of what helps him learn.

Created with an individual students, this chart helps him understand specific strategies that help learn and integrate new information and concepts about writing.

While I created this chart for an individual, I have no doubt that this could be done as a class inquiry project. We could introduce students to a menu of metacognitive strategies for learning, and they could create their own charts for what helps them–as individuals– learn at their highest levels.

Knowing ourselves as learners is powerful information– not just in writing workshop, but in all content areas. We can challenge students to reflect on themselves as learners at the end of the year, but we can also teach these concepts throughout the year, emphasizing the importance of goal-setting, tool-making, and understanding our own learning processes.