Writing and the Gift of Time

I made a goal for myself in February: to write a book proposal for submission to a publisher to-be-determined (topic: building a culture of literacy). Knowing what was expected of a proposal – an outline, a description of the work, and at least one chapter written – I could generally project out how much writing I would have to do between the 1st and the 28th.

Part of the plan was to write every day, around 350 words. That didn’t happen. A few days I had lots of time and motivation, and I wrote well over 1000 words. Other days, I didn’t feel like writing. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood or I had other priorities to take care of. Most days I persevered and put something down on paper. And there were a few days where I didn’t write at all.

My experience reminded me of what Patricia Polacco shared in her interview with three of our 5th graders during a recent author visit at our school. They asked her about her writing process.

I’d love to tell you I am a dedicated writer, but I’m not. I’ll do anything not to work.

She laughed and then expanded on this answer, explaining why she needs to motivated to be an effective writer.

I don’t believe in sitting down and forcing yourself to write when the words aren’t here.” (refers to herself) “If the fire isn’t in your belly, the words are going to show it. The words are going to be lifeless. The motivation has got to be there.

Patricia goes on to share the story of Jerome, a student at another school she visited. Jerome stared at his pencil for the majority of a writing period. Patricia later found out that Jerome wrote an eight-page essay on all the wonderful uses of a pencil.

As I think about my February project, I reflect on Patricia’s words. If I wasn’t feeling it, I didn’t force it. Instead, I would read excellent literature, hang with family, or simply give my mind a break. I did eventually get there because I gave myself the time, I did not rush myself, and I found joy in the process.

As we think about our own learning environments, how have we (or might we) shift toward a culture that is conducive for authentic literacy experiences, within the constraints of public education? How might these two worlds be compatible? Please share in the comments.

Examples of Practice: Goodreads and the Common Core

Literature and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the very first standard is titled “Reading: Literature”. I say this because some educators have expressed concerns about fiction being pushed out of literacy instruction. A deliberate review of the CCSS should clear up this misconception.

Another component I appreciate about our new national standards is a focus on the reading-writing connection. My building has participated in professional development on this topic for three years now. We believe that when we develop better readers, students’ writing also improves and vice versa. Last year we collected data that supports this belief.

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An example of the reading-writing connection is in Standard 4 – Writing, under “Texts Types of Purposes” for Grade 3. The first element expects students to write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view or reason. An important component to this type of writing is using specific information from the text to support an assertion.

Because we simply don’t have enough initiatives to take on this year (notice the sarcasm?), we are also exploring different ways to leverage technology to enhance student engagement and learning while addressing the CCSS. One Web 2.0 tool that has lots of potential is Goodreads. You can connect with other readers and their personal libraries to discover your next book. I have described it to others as Facebook for bookworms.

Recently, I read aloud The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco to a group of third graders. After the book was finished, we did a shared writing activity by forming an opinion about the book in my reading journal.

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You’ll notice the quotes above the rating and paragraph. While I wrote, I stressed with the students how important it is to document text from the story to support our opinion.

This book review served as a first draft for posting our review on Goodreads. Using an iPad with the screen mirrored on the whiteboard, we wrote our final draft together.

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Posting our opinion on my Goodreads account provided an authentic purpose. Our audience was anyone online looking for a reliable review of this book. We then compared our rating with some other readers, including Goodreads friends Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) and Laura Komos (@laurakomos).

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Seeing experts share the same opinion as ours about The Junkyard Wonders was both exciting and affirming for us. As well, the students had the opportunity to read friends’ exemplary writing as a model for future opinion pieces. I believe this is a strong example of integrating a Web 2.0 tool to facilitate an authentic literacy activity that addresses the Common Core for students.