This question poses a problem because, in my opinion, instead of leading to an answer, it leads to more questions. Many classrooms are overflowing with an abundance of research, resources, and materials for developing the teaching of writing. Then there are others with far less. Both can lead to problems and reasons for confusion. Even the feeling of not knowing. However, the teaching of writing may not be the issue because the question isn’t: How do I teach writing? The question is: How do I teach writers?
And that does not fit into a tidy box.
As we begin to ponder a break from students, perhaps six weeks, or two-three months, we might be planning to read, research, and prepare. You likely don’t know the writers that await you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare a little in advance before they venture into your classroom.
Teaching writers is a journey, an adventure, and a challenge. Your ideas, philosophies, and methods may change and evolve. I know mine do. Most often because as soon as I think I know something or understand the how, a writer in front of me changes my mind.
Here are three thoughts on improving how you teach writers and why you can.
Do the Research!
In this video, Nell Duke shares how research is the result of a question. If your question is somewhere within the form of, “How do I teach writers,” then knowing how to find or conduct research to answer your question is important. More and more, finding valid and researched practices is essential to the value of our work.
Watch and Learn!
These three video resources, linked below, have a variety of videos of classroom teachers, teacher-student interactions, and teachers sharing advice from their own areas of expertise. Using video resources can help support the teaching of writers because sometimes you just need to see it for yourself. Videos like these can sometimes feel like there is a piece of authenticity missing. I’d encourage you to watch with the lens of the video’s purpose. Videos like these are meant to show and share a scenario of what could be not necessarily how it could go wrong. Most teachers are already pretty familiar with that anyway, so keep that in mind the next time you watch a video and feel like rolling your eyes. I’ve been there and have reflected on that a bit since. Videos like these are meant to show me how and why not what if.
Explicit Teaching = More Precise Understanding
My best advice for teaching writing to writers is to be explicit in your teaching, model the techniques and strategies you are teaching, and allow your writers adequate and daily time to practice. We can say this all day long, but teaching can often get muddy and unclear. Our expectation can become cloudy. These two videos both demonstrate some specific teaching strategies. I find these videos are helpful as a starting point if you have never taught a strategy lesson before. These videos might not be showcasing my favorite strategies to teach. I might not even present them in this same way. However, the purpose is to take away the focus of the lesson and the expectations of the writers. Also, this type of lesson can be replicated with other strategies when we are intentional.
“Strategies help to take something that proficient writers do naturally, automatically, and without conscious effort, and make it visible, clear, and doable for the student writer.” Jennifer Serravallo, The Writing Strategies Book
What makes this all so challenging?
Writers are people.
People are unpredictable, fragile, and creative beings.
How do I teach writers? I’m still learning. I learn every day how to be better and how to leave room for them to show me what they know. Sometimes their shifts are in different places than I expect and as long as I am open and willing to teach the writer, I’ll begin to answer the question that started this whole piece, to begin with.
I leave you with this quote from William Stafford from his piece titled, “A Way of Writing.” The entire article can be found here for later reading.
“A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.”
Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.