Summer 2002. I am catching my breath after an exhausting, full-of-mistakes first year of teaching. On the top floor of the Tower at Nassau Community College, I am sitting around a table with educators from different grade levels and years of teaching experience. We are at the Long Island Writing Project Summer Invitational Institute and a teacher has just finished reading an excerpt from There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom by Louis Sachar. As the teacher’s voice fades, we all pick up our pens and begin to write. For a few minutes, the only sound is pens dancing across pages. We are given the signal to find a place to end our sentence. Capping our pens, we prepare to share some or all of what we wrote.
My introduction to quick writes came through my time with the Long Island Writing Project. Each day of the Summer Institute began the same: a teacher would read some type of text to the group and then we would all respond in writing. The writing was completely free- the writer could select the form and content. It always amazed me to hear how other writers found different entry points into the same text. (Totally proving Louise Rosenblatt’s Transactional Theory). Warming up with a quick write each day helped all of us grow as writers. We played with language and words, we were inspired for future pieces of writing, and we used our writing muscle daily. The shared texts also helped the group grow as a community- we had a communal bank of characters and stories to refer back to in conversation. This process did not take a lot of time but it was memorable, meaningful and moved us forward as writers.
Paula Bourque’s new book, Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms (Stenhouse Publishers 2019) reminds me that it is possible to replicate my quick write experience with the Long Island Writing Project in my own third grade classroom. Not only possible, but made easy with all of the ideas and resources Paula shares in this treasure trove! Paula defines “quick writes” as “short and frequent bursts of low-stakes writing in response to a stimulus (spark) that do not allow for planning, revising, or overly cautious forethought. They constitute thinking on paper that helps students creatively explore ideas while boosting their volume of writing” (7). Put more simply, she says, it is “Thinking and Inking.”
Each chapter begins with one of Paula’s own quick writes on the chapter’s focus. Quick Glance is a feature found in each chapter and it is a brief summary statement of what you will find in the next pages. The chapter ends with a Quick Write Invite, providing the reader with prompts to try your own quick write based on the material you just read. There are multiple examples of student writing and useful charts throughout the entire book.
- Chapter One asks the reader to think about the purpose of writing and then the benefits of daily quick writes.
- Chapter Two describes how to use quick writes and the different ways teachers can incorporate them into the day. (Quick writes are separate from Writing Workshop.)
- Chapter Three focuses on primary writers who are developing automaticity with letters and words. There are many great strategies for building fluency for younger writers.
- Chapter Four has a myriad of ideas for quick writes around informational topics. There were so many brilliant ideas for incorporating quick writes into all areas of the curriculum to help students show and grow their thinking.
- Chapter Five is all about the Arts and ways to incorporate appreciation for art, music, poetry, and other literature. Wordless books and book trailers are included as sparks for quick writing.
- Chapter Six centers on creativity and communication. Students try out different forms of poetry and figurative language. There are great ideas here for using first lines of books to spark writing and titles of books as well. Letter writing is also incorporated here with powerful ideas for inspiring student writing.
- Chapter Seven (one of my favorites!) is about social-emotional quick writes as well as metacognition and mindset. Paula writes, “We can boost the volume and practice of writing while increasing self-awareness when we combine writing and reflection” (147).
- Chapter Eight is just the inspiration your school might need to work towards building teachers who write. Paula shares how she was able to lead her colleagues to develop as writers by incorporating short quick writes into their day. She shares such smart ideas here for building a culture and community of writers among the educators in a district.
Throughout the chapters, Paula shares QR codes and links to a plethora of resources. She has compiled infographics, cartoons, videos, photographs, artwork, music, and more so a teacher has an instant bank of sparks for quick writes. The idea is to grow your own collection, tailored to your unique school’s personality, but Paula’s collections are an amazing place to start.
Paula’s first book, Close Writing, really impressed me with her authenticity and creative ideas for helping students think about their writing in deeper ways. This book, Spark! once again shows me that Paula is an educator who lives and breathes the teaching of writing with children and educators each day. Her passion shines through each page. This book is both inspirational and utterly practical. Paula has made it so easy to see how quick writes can be incorporated into your day with impactful results. If you haven’t read Spark! yet, be sure to comment below for a chance to win you own copy (thank you Stenhouse!). Add Spark! to your summer reading list and try out some of the quick writes yourself!
Below are some of my favorite quotes that Paula shared in this must-read book.
- This giveaway is for a copy of Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms. 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.)
- For a chance to win this copy of Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms leave a comment by Friday, June 14th at 11:59 pm EDT. I will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. The lucky recipient will be announced at the bottom of this blog post no later than Monday, June 17th.
- Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Stenhouse Publishers 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, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – SPARK! Please respond to my 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.