Ok, I know it is September and not January! Just the same, as a new school year begins, I think it is absolutely the right time to make some resolutions about teaching writing.
The last two years have been so challenging. When I first returned to in-person teaching in September 2020, my students sat behind plastic shields, wearing masks and could not work with each other in partnerships or groups. Shared supplies were a thing of the past. All the best practices strategies I knew about gathering students close, pulling up next to them, teaching them how to talk to a partner about their writing…..well, none of that was possible. The day was interrupted with mask breaks. Last year, many restrictions were loosened but not all. Several of my students returned to the classroom for the first time after a year and a half of remote learning. Writing skills seemed to take the biggest hit in the wake of learning online and interrupted schooling. I felt overwhelmed by the scope and sequence which had remained the same from before the pandemic. Students who had difficulty composing sentences were expected to write literary essays. I struggled to bridge the gap between where my students were and where they were “supposed” to be. Confession: Sometimes it felt easier to just skip writing workshop than try to muddle through all these hard parts.
It’s a new year and a fresh start. This year, all the restrictions are lifted and students can fully collaborate again. I can have a writing center with shared supplies. Students can gather close to me to listen to a mentor text and be part of a minilesson. Writing partners can meet and discuss their writing. Writing workshop can look more like writing workshop again! As I think about how I want this year to go, here are some of my New Year’s Resolutions when it comes to teaching writing:
The most meaningful writing I have done has been for a real reason and has been shared with others. Whether it was the toast for my my best friend’s wedding, the eulogy for my grandmother, the letter to my students and their families- the writing that I “ache with caring” about (to quote Mem Fox) is writing that I wrote for deeply personal purposes and shared with others. School writing doesn’t always inspire students to “ache with caring.” When writing is only seen by the teacher and doesn’t go anywhere, it’s hard to be invested.
My first unit of study is a foundational writing unit that teaches students about sentences and paragraphs. At the end of the unit, students are expected to write a paragraph. One idea I had was to create a class directory, where each student writes a paragraph about him/herself. This can be bound into a collection and shared with any visitors or new students who join our class. Having a real purpose and publishing to an audience can be a way to make the writing feel more purposeful and meaningful.
This year, I would really like to up my chart game! I want to create better charts with the help of my students. Then, I plan to make the charts available to them in smaller form at their table or in their notebooks. I would also like to create personalized checklists for students. Melanie Meehan’s book Every Child Can Write had many great suggestions for ways to scaffold writing for students and I plan to revisit it as I strive to provide better tools for to help my writers carry on independently.
Have you had a chance to check out the new Two Writing Teachers podcast? The episode on record keeping inspired me to think about how I can improve my conference notes. This year, I want to keep more detailed records that I share with students. I also want to share information about how students are growing as writers with families more frequently. As a parent, I always enjoy hearing from my children’s teachers about the ways they are growing and how I can support them. It is my goal to provide more of this feedback to the parents and caregivers in my class this year.
What are some of your New Year’s Resolutions for teaching writing this year? Do we have some in common or do you have other goals you are working towards? Let’s have a conversation in the comments and share our goals for this new year!