Today marks the end of our May blog series, Reflections and Shifts As We Move Forward. For me, this year of plastic barriers, temperature checks and masks also included a much smaller class and more opportunities for “greenbelt writing” in the outdoors. Ralph Fletcher described greenbelt writing in his book Joy Write. On the Heinemann podcast, Fletcher said this about greenbelt writing:
“First of all, I think it’s important to realize that education, like everything else, has a lot of changes. Things come in, things go out, and if you’re in education long enough you are aware of things that come in and out of style. I think that what’s happened in the world of writing, I think the standards movement has made writing more academic, not just in high school, but really in middle school and also in elementary school. You’ll hear teachers talk about how what used to happen in first grade now gets pushed down to kindergarten. I think that as writing workshop has found more academic writing, some kids aren’t doing that well in that environment. Some kids are fine with it, but some kids are finding it constricting, confining.
I’m making an analogy with what’s happened in population growth. This is not a field that I’m an expert in, but I know enough about the fact that many communities have seen a lot of subdivisions and developed land, and they’ve created green spaces, or greenbelts, where they’re kind of benign neglect spaces where nothing happens, that they’re allowed to remain wild. In the same way, in the writing classroom a lot of curricular land has been chopped down. A lot of wildness had been pulled out of the writing classroom. Even if we accept that that is the way it is, I think that teachers might consider creating greenbelts. A writing greenbelt, a place where that wild writing could still exist and flourish, and I think that we’ll find that a lot of times the kids that are not flourishing in the more constricted world of writing workshop can find their stride as writers in a writing greenbelt.”
This year, my writing greenbelt was our mask break time outdoors. My school encouraged us to sign up for mask breaks each day where the students could sit socially distant and have their masks off for about twenty minutes. My students would grab their notebooks and a pencil, along with a mat or beach towel, and we would head outside. This time of day was a breath of fresh air in every way- students could write whatever they wanted. The back of the notebook was a place to list their gratitude. I gave them some ideas for what they could write, but kept it very open to whatever they wanted to try. Some students wrote stories, some wrote poems, some made lists, some sketched, some just stared off in the distance and didn’t move their pencil. Maybe they just needed time to think and breathe and this time of day gave them that opportunity. Maybe seeds were planted for future writing projects. One of my shifts and reflections as I move forward it to keep getting my students outside and to keep providing some time each day for them to write whatever they want, however they want.
During the last week, each co-author has reflected on the learning and changes that have taken place during this historic school year.
On Sunday, May 2nd, Therapi emphasized the importance of prioritizing social emotional learning and building relationships.
On Monday, May 3rd, Stacey shared strategies for holding strong writing conferences, whether in the virtual or in-person classroom.
On Tuesday, May 4th, Amy discussed how to leverage technology to provide quality feedback for students.
On Wednesday, May 5th, Melanie provided ideas and resources on multimodal writing.
On Thursday, May 6th, Betsy shared how she was able to make cross-content connections with her remote kindergarten students.
On Friday, May 7th, Beth reflected on her own children’s experiences with learning and writing at home and the resources that were inspired to help other families support writing during remote learning.
Many thanks to all who joined the conversation and left a comment on posts in this blog series. Congrats to Tish who is the winner of the blog series giveaway, The Responsive Writing Teacher by Melanie Meehan and Kelsey Sorum. The winning comment was made on Melanie’s post on Multimodal writing.