Teaching Writers

Right away I flipped to Excellence 6-Teaching Writers in Regie Routman’s fabulous new resource, Literacy Essentials. Not that I wasn’t excited all of it, but my personal professional journey focuses so much on writing that I’m always excited to see what others have to say to add to what I already believe and practice. Turns out like everything I read out there I found myself nodding with a little bit of, “Woot, woot!”, some “Right On!”, lamenting with a touch of “Whoops!”,  and finally a HUGE “Thank you!”

First, I was especially drawn to this quote by David McCullough, “To write well is to think clearly. That is why it is so hard.” Yes, yes, yes! Regie and David. Writing is hard. For all of us. When I present at conferences and ask a ballroom full of teachers how many took college classes on how to teach writing effectively there is usually one or two lone hands raised.  No lie. One or two people in a room of one hundred educators who are expected to teach some form of writing each and every day. Next question, “How many of you feel like a writer yourself?.” Crickets. So not only is writing hard, it is made harder by a lack of knowledge on how to teach it effectively by adults who don’t write themselves. What do we do with all of that? We owe it to our kids to figure it out!

This leads to my first, “Woot, woot!” in this chapter (followed by many more in the margins!). The audience is everything. If writing is already hard why would anyone, kid or adult, want to spend that precious time in their day to write to no one? And bigger than that, if we are writing to no one then what are we writing anyway? What stance or tone do we take? What voice do we use? Why would conventions matter if no one is going to see it anyway? When a student writer knows who to write for and has a purpose for the writing then he will know as Ms. Routman says, “Writing takes courage and perseverance.” That it is worth the time spent drafting, revising, drafting, revising, keep going, and finally editing. Where or when there is purpose there is engagement and a move towards excellence. Ms. Routman tells us on page 236, “When we ensure as well that the audience and the purpose are meaningful and relevant to students-and that they have some choice in the writing topic-students do willingly invest in revising their work.”

Which moves us on to my, “Right On, Regie!” Revision is a process that needs to be experienced and then taught. That is another reason why teachers need to write! They need to write personally and in front of students to feel what revision feels like and model what revision looks like. She reminds us to demonstrate our own process, provide shared revision experiences, keep the audience in mind, and give some dedicated time to immerse in the revision process. There is so much power in developing a community of writers where the teacher is seen as part of that community. This always reminds me of the old adage, Kids do what we do. Not what we say. DO the revision work, fellow educators and there is a much bigger chance your students will too. They are surrounded in a world of perfect examples, show them the messy!

But alas, there is always something to learn and challenge my thinking and that is why my Amazon cart is consistently full to the max of professional text! On to my, “Whoops!”I thought I was the best editor in the room. I even made it a thing right around publishing time, bustling around with a pencil behind my ear chiming out, “Editing time, who needs an editor?” Regie, thanks for slowing my roll with this perfect gem, “Too often what happens is that we teachers continue to do most of the work, which makes the editing process cumbersome and exhausting for us and sends students the message that editing is not really their job.” This message was sent clearly to my writers (insert monkey with head in hands emoji here). This is what I love about book studies and being part of a larger learning community. Next year, this will no longer be a whoops! Teachable moment taught, thanks to Ms. Routman.

Finally, there is just one big “Thank you” for all of the research provided in this book. Holy Moly this book is full of what to read next! Most importantly in this section was the research on handwriting which I have been searching for this year. As a literacy leader it is my job to set high standards and expectations for all and having the research to back what I know is so important helps me gain momentum with others. In a busy classroom day, handwriting may seem low on the totem pole but my gut instinct has always been, “Handwriting still matters-a lot” (248). THANK YOU for giving me the research I can now provide as I meet with teachers to focus on this important issue, especially around cursive.

This post is part of a book study around Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners by Regie Routman (Stenhouse, 2018). Check out more resources associated with the text at this website (https://sites.stenhouse.com/literacyessentials/), including a free curriculum for teaching an undergraduate course using Literacy Essentials.

Author: literacychats

Jen and Kristin have been learning from young writers for over thirty years combined. As classroom teachers and literacy coaches they have worked in kindergarten up through fifth grade classrooms and learned how to navigate kids through the messy process of writing. They work as presenters, consultants and contribute articles to various websites and blogs. When they aren’t teaching, writing, presenting and chasing after their own kids, Jen and Kristin can be found drinking wine, eating chocolate and training for half marathons to atone for the aforementioned scandalous behavior!

7 thoughts on “Teaching Writers”

  1. WOW and Wow to Jen and Kristin for this amazing post on teaching writers! I love how how thoughtful and reflective you are. Your insights on audience and purpose, revision, editing, handwriting and more indicate how you are always rethinking teaching in ways that support students to engage, persevere, learn more, and have agency in their lives. I’m also appreciative of your “thank you” for all the research I provide in Literacy Essentials and impressed you see the necessity of relevant research to support and validate the work we do as educators. Through the book’s accompanying website, most of that research is just a click away, to make it easy to access. Congratulations, once again, on your wonderful post! With admiration, Regie

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    1. I really do THANK YOU for doing all the heavy lifting and getting research into teacher’s hands so easily! If only there was a TPT or Pinterest for strong education research-LOL! Hmmmm…now that’s got me thinking?? Next project Ms. Routman??

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      1. Sounds like a great project you might consider! First you have to convince teachers how important credible research–and being familiar with it– is to our ongoing teaching, assessing, thinking, re-thinking, leading, and learning. Good luck with it all!

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  2. I’ve been thinking about how I might approach my editing conferences differently this year after writing the post. First, thinking that I will chat with my teachers (always the best idea to see what they are thinking) but myself be modeling a new way into editing conferences by saying things like:

    How can I support YOU as you edit your work?
    What editing have YOU tried yourself? Show me where YOU were able to edit yourself?
    Is there something specific I can help YOU edit this piece for?
    As you read this aloud to me, have your pencil ready so you can edit as YOU notice things?

    Just some thoughts as I ran this morning 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Loved your honest reflections and ability to acknowledge and own your “whoops” as well. I believe that is powerful in and of itself. Looking back at our teaching when we learn more so that we can then look forward in our teaching moves, that takes courage, but is really the heart of good teaching. I agree that teachers are not taught how to be writing teachers. I’m attending the Literacy Symposium in Oshkosh on Thursday and Friday of this week. The main focus of the symposium is writing. I’m anxious to learn what the presenters have to say…

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  4. I was fortunate enough to take a class in how to teach writing as part of my Literacy M.Ed and one of the most important lessons I learned was to have an audience in mind. I find that it makes it so much easier to write when I know who I’m writing for. I often think about what we, as adults, appreciate in our lives, and then think about how young people appreciate the same things. I mean, the way we write for a blog is different than the way we write a cover letter, and is different from the way we write a letter to a family member. Thank you for drawing attention to the important connection between what educators and students do!

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