Monday, April 27, 2015

7 Minutes

Today was a lot like any other day. It was the end of writers workshop, and my students and I gathered on the carpet for what we call “workshop debriefing.”  I always look forward to this 5-10 minute conversation because it provides me with teaching points for the coming days.  Not only that, but it’s also one of the most fun parts of the day.  The students and I get to hear what everyone is working on.  My students have also become very helpful to one another as they are always willing to offer feedback.

As usual, I started out this debriefing by asking each writer to share where they are in their writing process.  (I have been heavily inspired by Ruth Ayres’ work this year, including this blog post.) As they made their way around the circle, I noticed that I had stopped writing down teaching points and “next steps” on my Status Of The Class page.  Instead, I was amazed at how these 10 and 11-year old students were speaking to one another.  They were talking like…writers. 

I quickly started jotting down what these young authors were saying.  Here is a sample of what I observed:

  • Bruce shared that he was planning out a story with lots of suspense. He had a basic idea for a plot, but he needed to fill in some plot holes.  Nathaniel, Bruce’s peer editor, suggested looking at Jon Scieszka’s Guys Read: Thriller anthology.  Another boy ran over to his desk and pulled out Ralph Fletcher’s Guy Write to Bruce while saying, “You can learn a lot from Ralph.”
  • Abby shared that she was working on some poetry as she held up a few mentor texts we used in our recent Poetry unit in reading workshop, including poems by Robert Frost.
  • Chris announced that he had started writing the third episode of “Monkey Attack.”  This announcement was met with a few fist pumps and shouts of “Finally!”  from about half of the class.  “Looks like you have some fans, Chris,” I said as he shyly chuckled.
  • Lanore shared that she started writers workshop with nothing to write about, so she used Rory’s Story Cubes for some inspiration.  Three other students asked if they could borrow those tomorrow.
  • Tiara mentioned how she was mulling over the idea of starting a graphic novel about ferrets.  I steered her towards a book in our classroom library that was about how to design comics, paying particular attention to the pages about when to use wide-angles and close ups.
  • Braydon, a very reluctant writer, explained how he was writing a script for a book trailer for a story he was creating.  A few students offered him help for writing the draft, as they had just finished creating a book trailer themselves.
  • Jineen announced that she had finished typing up her biography of Margaret Peterson Haddix, and was starting a poem inspired by the book RUMP: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff.  
All this occurred in about seven minutes.  I was beyond elated.  What I had just witnessed was a community of writers helping each other, offering feedback, giving advice, sharing their failures, planning out their writing, and asking questions.  For a few moments in the day, these young writers were cherishing this time to share, comment and connect.  Even some of my most reluctant writers had found a topic, audience or genre to pursue.  These seven minutes were special to me because I saw the power of our writing culture.  The writing customs, routines and behaviors we’d worked so hard to develop were on full display.  

This group of writers had connected around an appreciation for the writing process.  Yet, none of these young writers had noticed recess had started 4 minutes ago.