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Writing as Social-Emotional Development: Maximizing Writing Time

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.

Giveaway Info: 

  • 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 Workshopplease 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.

Lainie Levin View All

Mom of two, full-time teacher, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and holder of a very full plate

24 thoughts on “Writing as Social-Emotional Development: Maximizing Writing Time Leave a comment

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this post! The timing is amazing! Writing has certainly been a salve for my weary heart!
    I’m excited to read Shelley’s book! Her book “Going Public” was a seminal inspiration for me as a writing teacher.
    Cathy Miller

    Liked by 1 person

  2. All those thoughts are worthy of expression!!! Wow I love that, and really reframes some of the work I see from kids. It helps me focus more on how valuable the kids found it to write what THEY want, rather than what I tell them to. Currently struggling with this as two of my kids want to write together about Rick and Morty instead of our realistic fiction unit… not sure exactly where I stand with that, but I appreciate the re-frame to help me remember that clearly the kids know their is value in the work they are doing together.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I totally get that! Some of my students want to write the fluffiest, most surface-level stuff and it takes everything I’ve got not to squoosh them or their excitement for writing – even if I know they have more to offer. I’m also trying to work my way around supporting students in how to collaborate on writing so that they push each other to BETTER. I’m all ears if you have any suggestions!

      I’m also grateful that this post could offer some rethinking and reframing. I know I need to get my feet back on the ground from time to time, so I’m glad my writing could do the same for you.

      (And. your blog’s name? FAB-U-LOUS!)

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  3. The emphasis on student freedom and choice is so important. Too often, we feel hemmed in by standards or curriculum. Thank you for this important remember that kids will be engaged when they get to pick what they want to write about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely! That balance between freedom and the structured curriculum is a tough one. The letting go, at least for me, is both thrilling and scary. I have places I want my kids to “get to,” and I just have to keep reminding myself of how important it is for them to be behind the wheel as much as possible.

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  4. The connection part of this blog post really spoke to me today. In my setting, masks and distancing have challenged our former ways of connecting with students and each other. Placing our writing out into the world helps to bring us closer together again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad and grateful that today’s post resonated with you. It’s everything I could have hoped for. I mean, it’s everything I *always* hope for with writing – to be heard and to feel connected. I’d also agree that the masks and distancing have really changed the game. It’s weird, because in some ways our Zoom instruction last year leveled the playing field in a lot of ways. I’m trying to replicate some of that feeling with our in-person instruction. New situation = new obstacles and opportunities, I guess…

      Good luck with your students – those connections are so important!

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  5. “When students write what they love, they start to love writing.” I see this happen over and over with my students, slower with some, but patience leads to those miracles. Slice of Life and other blogging communities made me change my tune on feedback as well. Now I believe it’s about making a connection, “I see you” “I’ve been there” “You are like me!” These are so valuable. Thanks for affirming my beliefs about writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I’m so glad this post brought you affirmation and validation. It’s all I could have hoped for. And that PATIENCE – waiting for kids to come around to seeing the power that self-expression holds. It’s messy and chaotic for so long that it can be discouraging for me from time to time. But like you say, “those miracles” can and do make themselves known. And THAT is why we do what we do. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I give my students a “free writing” period once or twice a week and they often use this time to write about how they are feeling. However, the only way I get this is by promising that I won’t read their writing unless they ask me to read it. They often do ask me to read it, but I have to honor their wishes when they ask me not to read it as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is SO very important, Nyssa. I feel like when I write, I’m putting a little piece of myself out into the world. I have to trust other people with that precious cargo when I share my writing. Our kids are no different, and sometimes they need others around them to *earn* that trust. Thank YOU for honoring your students by giving them the space they need for self-expression.

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  7. Thanks for this post. The teachers I am working with are feeling stuck because of all the emotional needs of their students. Your suggestions will help for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! It is REALLY EASY to feel stuck. I’ve been there. Hopefully just a nudge, just a small thing, will feel a little bit more manageable. And hopefully, whatever small step people take will pay them back richly. I know it has for me. =))

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    • ohhhh yes TIME. It seems like quite the formidable foe of a teacher. We’re constricted by expectations for instructional time, bell schedules, school schedules – all of it. Trying to find bits of freedom is tough. I’m still trying to negotiate that balance, but it’s worth the effort when I can.

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  8. The information presented by Lainie Levin about maximizing writing time is so important to our schools/teachers. If we can just get across to teachers that time to write, time to share, time to talk about what we are writing will develop our students’ critical thinking and learning, we will be on the road to developing strong strategies not just for writing but for emotional development as well. Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yes, writing is so important and one of the first things to go in time constraints. I was thinking as I read your post about the time in the past when I did give students more time to write and how I can find that time now…especially now. Sheila

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s HARD to find those pockets of time, especially with all of the expectations and learning targets, etc. Fingers crossed that you’re able to find a little spot here and there…

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