authentic writing · community · emergent writers · kindergarten · purpose · writing workshop

Getting Centered

March is such a long and arduous month, and like many of you, I’m a (tired) teacher on spring break. This brief pause from the daily grind could not have come at a better time. I’m exactly halfway through it now, and in between taking care of my two young children and doing lots of cleaning around the house, I’ve been trying to rest and reset as much as possible. Time flies when you’re having fun!

This break has also given me space to think about and reflect upon my teaching in general, and about writing workshop in particular. For those who don’t know, I teach Kindergarten in a bilingual English / Mandarin classroom in New York City. My co-teacher and I collaborate as much as possible so that our lessons align even if the language differs. We’ve done some really interesting bilingual shared and interactive writing with students that I hope to blog about at a later date. Since I share the teaching time, I have to be very strategic with what I teach and how I teach it. I also have to be flexible with when I teach the writing units of study and adaptable in terms of modifying some units to fit our shared instructional goals. Sometimes it feels impossible just to fit it all in.

When I return to school, we will be diving right into our very fun and engaging creative writing unit in which the students invent their own characters and develop stories about them. This year, we will also be incorporating teaching points from the first grade small moments unit as a way to scaffold and help children craft simple stories. I love this unit because, as I have blogged before in my Puppets and Playdates piece from 2022, it provides my students with so many opportunities to become confident and independent writers and to use the tools and resources they’ve been learning how to use all year long (word walls, alphabet charts, editing checklists, paper choices, writing utensils, etc.). It also gives them the freedom to explore who they are as writers and develop their writing identities.

When I was in elementary school writing was something I did because my teachers told me to do it. I’m sure that I wrote for fun and authentic purposes too, especially at home, but in school it was more of an assignment rather than a form of self-expression–a book report, a summary, a response to a prompt with a sentence starter, etc. And in Kindergarten (it was just half-day), writing was not even part of the curriculum. How lucky my students are to be experiencing writing at such a young age, and in two languages! But do they see themselves as writers?

As I reflect upon my teaching practice, I always have more questions than answers. Can an emergent writer begin to form a writing identity? Do my students use writing to express themselves and communicate their ideas? Do they know how powerful their words can be? Do they write because they want to or is it more like a chore? Is writing even important to them? How can I encourage them to use their voices and personalities more as they write? What should I do about my reluctant writers? Are my students resilient writers? Can they problem solve through challenges? Do they seek out and use classroom resources? Do they feel safe to make mistakes and take risks? Can they start to understand and appreciate the power and beauty of language? Clearly, I could go on and on.

I want to ensure that when I return to the classroom in one short week from now, that I am centered in my beliefs as a teacher of writing in order to focus on what is most important to me. I know that as a general education teacher, my mind and energy will be pulled in so many different directions. After all, there is still reading, math, phonics, and World Course to teach (among other things). Sometimes it feels really hard to provide my students with enough opportunities to write. There is always too much to do. I want them to strengthen their writing muscles and become proficient at the many writing skills and strategies that I have taught. Yet my underlying hope is that they truly start to identify as writers whether that happens during writing workshop, or throughout other times of the day.

This is no small feat, but one that I endeavor to pursue because it matters so much to me that my students leave kindergarten with a writerly mindset–that they can start to write for both expressive and practical purposes, that they are able to persevere through writing challenges, and that above all else, they feel proud of their growth as writers and continue to write this spring, this summer, and beyond. I hope that they will write not just because I tell them to write, but because like so many of you, they are inspired to write.

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