Lainie Levin recently wrote about finding joy to carry along from this school year into the next. As someone who chose JOY as my one little word to live by in 2021, I understand that consciously choosing to be joyful is what we have to do, even when it’s hard. That said, many teachers I work with feel as though the joy zapped out of their writing workshops. Be it new curriculum mandates or COVID-related issues, it’s been a hard 27 months (and counting) for nearly all educators. So how do we bring back some of the joie de vivre — if you will — to writing instruction during the 2022-23 school year?
After having spent a lot of time physically distancing ourselves from one another, we’re finding ways to gather a bit more closely again. Writing clubs are a way to bring students back together, honor student choice, and strengthen a classroom writing community. But what are they and how do you start and sustain them?
In Writing Clubs: Fostering Choice, Collaboration, and Community in the Writing Classroom, Lisa Eickholdt and Patricia Vitale-Reilly provide readers with a road map to help teachers implement complement and stand-alone writing clubs that will help students learn to collaborate and grow as writers.
Complement writing clubs correlate with an ongoing unit of study. These clubs might focus on process or craft. Complement writing clubs are scheduled just as you have scheduled time for writing partnerships to meet (i.e., two to three times per week within the writing workshop block).
In Writing Clubs, Eickholdt and Vitale share a variety of these clubs that can be utilized while engaging in genre-based units of study. Lisa and Patty suggest three types of complement clubs, which include process clubs, craft clubs, and digital clubs. Each chapter includes an array of minilesson topics/teaching points you can use to teach a variety of skills to the entire class. In addition, these chapters include lots of tips for launching and sustaining complement clubs, as well as sample unit plans that show how complement clubs can factor into the daily plans.
The chapter on digital clubs was one of my favorites. With many schools offering 1:1 technology, it is important to make sure that technology is a tool that helps writers accomplish tasks. Technology is only a tool if it’s meant to accomplish something, rather than having technology just to say that it’s in the building. In this chapter, the co-authors help you to find meaningful ways to teach into digital clubs that “fall into one of three categories: lessons on how to use the platform, lessons that build on or extend key concepts we are teaching students about writing in that genre, and lessons where digital writing leads the writing” (2022, 91). The sample unit plan is a fourth-grade and includes brilliant ways for students to collaborate about poetry while using tech tools. There are digital poetry samples, which are sure to get your wheels turning about how you can help digital clubs to complement any genre you teach.
Stand-alone writing clubs function as freestanding, separate opportunities for writers to gather by choosing the mode of writing. These clubs can be formed around preferred genres, favorite authors, or characteristics of writing (e.g., conventions). When students work in stand-alone writing clubs, they have a level of autonomy since they make their own decisions about their writing work. Stand-alone clubs may meet for a couple of weeks at a time, in between units of study, during the school year.
Imagine encouraging your students to gather together as part of stand-alone units where they’re able to gather around a shared love of an author or similar genre interests. When kids are engaged in writing, they can play and experiment with conventions so stand-alone clubs can even be conventions-based. By giving students the opportunity to come together to work in small groups, we foster choice, collaboration, and community.
Just like the second section of the book, the third section on stand-alone clubs is chock full of checklists, sample units, anchor chart samples, author/book lists, potential teaching points, and student work samples.
Writing can be a solitary endeavor. I craft my best writing when I share with peers who ask questions and provide feedback. My finished product is always stronger when I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with other writers. The same thing goes for young writers. Students will grow as writers whenever they have the opportunity to collaborate and feel at home in a community of writers.
I hope you’ll give writing clubs a try next year. Use Lisa and Patty’s book to help you start your journey to bring joy back into your classroom through the implementation of writing clubs.
This giveaway is for a copy of Writing Clubs: Fostering Choice, Collaboration, and Community in the Writing Classroom. Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. For a chance to win this copy, please leave a comment about this post by Thursday, June 16th, 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 Sunday, June 19th. 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 – WRITING CLUBS. 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.
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Many thanks to everyone who left a comment on this post. The copy of Writing Clubs will go to msnorajarvis.