There’s no denying it.
It’s been a hard year.
More than ever, stress and uncertainty loom large. For many of us and our colleagues, our jobs and our lives feel heavy, burdensome, lonely.
And more than ever, it’s important to find connection. Community. Validation. Hope.
I know where I’ve found it. It’s right here, in our Slice of Life community. Blogging provides an outlet for thoughts and feelings. Writing helps to process the tumult of our inner and outer worlds. Slice of Life offers a space for expression. There is comfort in the assurance that we are not alone, that our words matter, that what we do in this world MATTERS.
Writing saves us.
Now let’s turn our attention to the classroom, to the kids in our care. Like many of us, they might grieve the closeness and freedom they took for granted. Like many of us, they might carry the burdens of anxiety and isolation.
And like many of us, they need a space to release those burdens, to feel the same connection and validation that has kept us afloat.
This, my friends, is where we begin. THIS is where we claim our power as writers, as teachers of writing.
No matter the age of our students, no matter their readiness level, no matter the constrictions of a mandated writing system, there are ways to create and protect a nurturing, supportive community of young writers.
Community: Laying the Groundwork
Go back to your own blog page, or peek at a writing blog you love. Take a few moments to review some of your favorite posts. Read back over the comment section. Whatever positive feelings you have, whatever joy it brings you, is what you want for your own students.
Tell them that.
In whatever way is developmentally appropriate for your group, share your own writing, share the responses you’ve gotten after putting your writing into the world, share how it makes you feel. If you don’t have your own blog, share writing or social media posts that have been meaningful. Share that you want the same for them. Share that they deserve the same validation and respect for what they can do.
How can we build a writing community centered on social and emotional well-being? Really, it boils down to three things:
- Freedom and choice in writing
- A chance to read one another’s writing
- The structure and scaffolding for providing judgment-free feedback
Freedom and Choice: Following Our Own Muse
It seems simple: let students write what they want. And yet, it’s REALLY difficult. Students need to master skills and standards. There isn’t time to just let students write whatever, whenever. It won’t get them where they need to be.
Yet even in a highly regimented writing program, it may be possible to find ten minutes. Each day, or a few times a week. Small scraps of time at the beginning of a day, the end of a day, right before or after a specials class.
There’s also the question of what the kids actually write. This part is tricky for me. How can I get my kids to fully express themselves if all they write about is their lives as a hamster or a bug or whatever?
All I can tell you is this: when kids write what they love, they start to love writing. Sometimes, we have to wade through the fluff long enough for kids to see that their thoughts – ALL of their thoughts – are worthy of expression. Gradually, the hamsters and bugs may give way to deeper reflection. I had one student who moved from two years’ worth of Minecraft stories to an astounding poem about living as a non-neurotypical kid. If you’ve seen it, you know it’s magic.
Reading One Another’s Writing
In order for students to create writing that’s worth being read, it’s important that their work is…well, READ. Just as we might need to beg, borrow, and steal time for kids to write on their own, it’s important to find time for kids to read one another’s writing, whether it’s whole pieces or just excerpts.
That could take place in many forms. Student read-aloud to the class? Student blogs on Fanschool or other platforms? Posting artifacts around the room, or even around the school, for kids to read at their own time? Google Docs? It really depends on your situation. For me, I’m an elementary Language Arts enrichment teacher. I only get to see students in pull-out groups for an hour or two a week, so we rely heavily on Fanschool and Seesaw as a virtual space. We’re teachers. We do what we have to do.
Judgment-Free Feedback + Support = Validation
I used to envision student feedback as peer editing. Kids would read one another’s work and give suggestions for strengthening the writing, making it worthy of publishing.
Then I became a writer myself and joined the Slice of Life writing community. I realized that there’s a place for constructive criticism and suggestions, but not before we – as writers – feel safe, supported, seen. Yes, it’s one thing for capitals and punctuation to be in their proper spots. But it’s another thing entirely to write with purpose, to keep readers engaged and connected.
For that, again I turn to the Slice of Life community. I see compliments, encouragement, reactions and connections, quotes from text. These are the building blocks for feedback that kids need if we want them to support and nurture one another. This can take place orally, via sticky note, through a comment section. Any interaction is good. More is better.
This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. Several of our Two Writing Teachers authors have written books about establishing a writing community. For a deeper dive, I recommend checking out their resources by clicking here.
Bringing it All Together
It’s no secret: most of what teachers do is meeting the social and emotional needs of our students before any learning can begin. It was true before the pandemic, it’s especially true now, and it will continue to be true across the years.
And it continues to be true in writing instruction. Yes, there are time constraints and academic expectations. But there is something to be said for an affective approach to writing, however that might look. Writing communities offer safety and affirmation, which bring connection and comfort. It’s what our children need – now, more than ever.
- This giveaway is for a copy of Above and Beyond the Writing Workshop by Shelley Harwayne. Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader.
- For a chance to win this copy of Above and Beyond the Writing Workshop, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, January 28th at 11:59 a.m. EST. Stacey Shubitz will use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name she will announce in a post recapping this blog series on January 30th. Eligible to be shipped to the USA and Canada.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Stacey can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.
- If you are the winner of the book, Stacey will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – MAXIMIZING WRITING TIME. Please respond to Stacey’s 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.