Bright high school lights shone down, illuminating both players and field. With the black and white ball at my feet, I looked up to survey my options. Suddenly, my friend, playing for the opposing high school team, approached me. Carefully, I studied his defensive stance – if he comes toward me with feet to close together, I thought, then I’ll push the ball to his left and run around him to his right to retrieve it. If, however, his feet are too wide apart, then I will simply push the ball between his feet, “freezing him” for just a moment, while I bolt around him to pick up the ball behind him. Which will it be? I thought to myself confidently.
As schools begin to restart, I have been thinking a lot about ways to begin building community within our new COVID reality. Specifically, I have been thinking about ways we as teachers might harness the structure of writing partnerships as a means by which to help create meaningful, supportive connections between writers. But as I have written about before (here and here), kids are not naturally good at being writing partners. They tend to require some explicit teaching support and tools to help them become truly effective.
The Writing Process
An idea for supporting more effective writing partnerships, one that I have been discussing lately with teacher, author, and Two Writing Teachers colleague Melanie Meehan, is emphasizing the importance of the writing process. As she wrote about in yesterday’s post, all writers work a little bit differently across the writing process. Some writers are able to generate ideas quickly and easily, while others frequently draw a blank. Some are able to think big when it comes to revision, while others are challenged to move beyond just tinkering. Every writer works a little bit differently. They do so either within the different phases of the overall process (generating, planning revising, etc.), and/or across the process (in other words, the way we work from start to finish).
But what if were to, after spending some time helping kids become more aware of their own writing processes, then help kids’ begin to use their knowledge and understanding of the writing process to become better partners?
Melanie and I decided to try this thinking out a few weeks ago. In the short videos below, watch as we work together (unrehearsed) to lean on our knowledge of where the other one is within the writing process to provide support to one another:
If – Then
In sports, there exist many if-then scenarios. Take the soccer example I describe in the introduction: If he does this, then I do that. In other words, if this, then that. Baseball or softball are similar – if a runner is on this base, then the throw goes there. But if multiple runners are on base, then throw goes there. Again, if this, then that. Understanding these scenarios and knowing (having been taught) how to react within each of them helps to create more potential success for the players. A few years ago, the writers and thinkers at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in New York created a beautifully helpful resource that draws upon this way of thinking entitled the If-Then Curriculum book (available as part of the Writing Units of Study). What if we were to take this idea to partnerships? Below is a resource I have created to help writing partners support one another, whether in person or in remote connections. This tool might be something you may wish to introduce in phase three of a curriculum of partnerships during which partners learn ways to provide feedback to one another (see this post for a three-part phase-in schedule for writing partners).
It turns out that in the soccer game that night, my friend had his feet a little too wide apart, which allowed me to, what we call in soccer, “nutmeg” him. This is a move I had been taught by one of my great coaches. Later, my friend and I had a great laugh about this. But this small moment has always reminded me that that when equipped with tools and knowledge, we can help to make our own success. I know this school year is going to be extraordinarily challenging, but I am hopeful that we might create some strengths through partnerships this year.
For more than 27 years, Lanny has taught, coached, presented, staff developed, and consulted within the exciting and enigmatic world of literacy. With unyielding passion and belief in the possibility of workshop teaching, Lanny has worked to support students, teachers, and school administrators around the country in outgrowing themselves as both writers and readers. Working first as a classroom teacher, then as a coach and TCRWP Staff Developer, Lanny is now a literacy specialist, working and living in the great state of Connecticut. Outside of literacy, he enjoys raising his three ambitious young daughters with his wife, and playing the piano. Find him on this blog, as well as on Twitter @LannyBall. Lanny is also a co-author of a blog dedicated to supporting teachers and coaches that maintain classroom writing workshops, twowritingteachers.org.