My daughter, Larkin, just came downstairs and interrupted my blog post writing to introduce me to a word game she has discovered. “Try this,” she said, and went on to explain the rules and the goals.
Needless to say, I gave away five minutes to try out Wordle. (I got the word in five tries.)
And, because of the post I’m working on, my mind went straight to “How could this become a writing challenge,” a brain journey that I’m fairly sure would make Shelley Harwayne smile.
Harwayne has gifted passionate writing teachers with Above and Beyond the Writing Workshop. Grounded in beliefs, experience, and passion, this book is a collection of writing challenges that are rooted in children’s literature and writing ideas that Harwayne has designed to be short, engaging, and fun. In a recent phone conversation with Shelley, she stated: “‘I wonder if kids would love to do that,’ should be the question” that inspires any writing challenge.
After I read the book, I talked to one of our elementary principals. Since it was a snow day, we both had time and brain space to process and brainstorm, engaging in the kind of collaboration that Harwayne emphasizes both in the book and in our conversation, highlighting the importance of “having time and a place for teachers to get together and talk.” My principal hadn’t heard me this excited about writing in a while, and she asked about the challenges. I described a couple of them, and she was instantly on board. “What’s your vision?” she asked. The two of us continued the conversation, ending with an agreement to figure out how to involve some passionate, although overwhelmed teachers. We are both hopeful that there will be people who are excited enough to link arms and join in! Maybe some of you will, too!
The book is organized into sections with 22 distinct writing challenges. When I asked Harwayne about the decisions behind what units went within what sections, she agreed with me that many of them could go anywhere. Her sections encompass the beliefs that she holds, that I hold, and that I am sure many of you reading this post hold as well. I share them here because I think they are indicative of the philosophical drumbeat that makes me admire this book so much.
The sections are:
- Getting Up From Your Desk
- Camaraderie Among Writers
- Original and High Quality
- More Than an Audience of One
While I don’t have a favorite (I love them all!), some of the standout challenges for me are:
Curiosity at the Core: a unit based around the questions students wonder. “In this challenge, we put curiosity on a pedestal, making it the driving force of students’ reading, writing, and researching” (72).
Just For a Day: Writers envision a day in the life of a person who interests them. The sample work included not only facts and information, but also a deep sense of empathy as children envisioned themselves living the experiences of someone else.
Would You Rather: We often play a version of Would You Rather on car rides or in long lines. In this challenge, writers are tasked with not only asking the question but providing enough information so readers can make informed decisions. What a fun take on opinion writing!
Nonfiction Calendars: Even though I no longer purchase spiral-bound calendars, I appreciate their beauty and representation of a place. Nonfiction calendars offer writing opportunities for information, captions, and anecdotes, as well as artwork, a sense of time, and a need for planning. I know many people who would welcome a creative nonfiction calendar designed and written by a writer they love!
Each writing challenge follows a structure and offers resources, making them accessible for envisioning and implementation.
These sections include:
- Exploring the roots of the challenge- In this section, Harwayne explains the thinking and inspiration behind the idea.
- Engaging students in the challenge- Every challenge has an immersive quality, and Harwayne shares the authentic experiences and reactions of children.
- Continuing to support students’ efforts
- Gathering information: What do children need in order to get started? Harwayne includes books for inspiration, as well as resources that could help guide the process.
- Sharing your own writing: Foundational to the book is Harwaynes belief that “teachers try to do what they ask students to do,” as stated in our phone conversation. Harwayne’s writing samples are engaging, as well as inspirational, sending the clear and repeated message that teachers who write are powerful teachers of writing.
- Lifting the quality of student writing: I instantly envision these sections as charts and teaching points. What can students do to make their writing stronger? What are the revision moves?
- Student writing samples: The authenticity and the high quality of the writing samples will inspire anyone who is considering trying out a challenge with their classroom!
- Carving out time for celebration: Although only one of the overall sections is entitled “More Than an Audience of One”, every suggested celebration feels genuine.
- Books noted- The specific books that are referenced in the preceding pages, most of which serve as mentor texts. One of Harwayne’s critical elements of any writing challenge is the availability of high-quality literature to inspire and support, and she generously and thoroughly provides powerful collections.
- A few titles to enrich your teaching- A few titles is an understatement. While there are titles listed within the text, there are also many more through the on-line companion guide, a guide that Harwayne is constantly adding to as more books are published.
The picture on the cover of Above and Beyond the Writing Workshop is of Dalia, a third-grade student in New York City, and she is holding a piece of writing. She’s wearing glasses and a beaded necklace that she might have made, although you can only see a part of it. With her glasses, her stripes, and her plaid, she looks like a child who is excited to be in school. When you open the cover and read her writing, the words that are on the paper she’s holding, my guess is that you’d be excited to have her in school. My hope is that you win or order this book and take on a challenge or two– maybe even create your own. I may create one about the various word games available as daily challenges.
The final chapter, Concluding Thoughts: On Inventing, Innovating, and Inspiring One Another, Harwayne emphasizes the excitement of trying something new and discovery. “In the day of overscheduled, overmandated lives, both in and out of the classroom, teachers find it energizing to design and try something brand new, and the joy that emanates from that experimentation shows on the faces of the students and on the drafts that fill their writing folders” (283). Additionally, she provides twelve elements to consider as you design your own writing challenges, including the importance of choice, interests, high-quality literature, and teachers writing alongside students. The final question is the one that drives me the most: Will the workshop be filled with a feeling of joy?
Now more than ever, I am celebrating joy in classrooms, and this is a book that inspires joy.
- This giveaway is for a copy of Above and Beyond the Writing Workshop by Shelley Harwayne. Many thanks to Stenhouse for donating a copy for one reader.
- For a chance to win this copy, please leave a comment about this post by Monday, January 24, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Thursday, January 27 . You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway.
- Please be sure to 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 will ship your book out 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 – ABOVE AND BEYOND. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
I am the Writing and Social Studies Coordinator in Simsbury, CT, and I love what I do. I get to write and inspire others to write! Additionally, I am the mom to four fabulous daughters and the wife of a great husband.