Tag Archives: #WhyIWrite

Why We Write

This post is written by members Amy Miller and Meghan Jones.

“Writing can be my best friend.”

“Writing to me is the tool for creating a world that otherwise could not exist.”

“I want to be a writer who can write about things that are important not just in school. But world things.”

“Writing can bring life back to you when life is the worst it could possibly be.”

“Writing reminds me that the best is yet to come.”

After navigating our first year of heterogeneously grouped classes, the English 100H team, a group of teachers responsible for the ninth-grade classes, realized the need for a dramatic change for our first unit—we had to start the year off with a stronger push to rope all kids into what really matters in English class.

We wanted to cultivate in students the skills necessary to be successful learners and begin to instill in them the importance of being active, engaged readers and thoughtful writers. We worked backward with the idea of a summative assignment for which students reflected on who they are as writers, and we built a unit that provided students multiple opportunities to reflect on their own writing, engage with mentor texts, learn from their peers’ writing, and make choices about their learning along the way.

Here’s an overview of the two-to-three week process:

As a culture builder, a lesson in active listening, and a brainstorming activity, we began with peer interviews. Students asked each other questions about their memories of learning to write and the role of writing in their lives today. They recorded key words or phrases from their peers’ responses. Students then used the interview content to flash-draft responses to the question, Who I am as a writer?

Students explored mentor texts of published writers reflecting on why they write or read and identified strategies to then apply to their own writing. The idea of “reading like a writer” came from Rebekah O’Dell and Allison Marchetti of Moving Writers in their book Writing with Mentors. In a mini-lesson, we modeled the process of noticing and then naming strategies in our own words with a class model from short, accessible reflections by well-known authors. Students then explored other mentors in small groups, adding to our growing class list of strategies.

Students then personalized their learning by independently exploring an amassed list of mentors, including writers’ reflections, podcasts, TED Talks, and interviews with well-known writers and musicians. We continued to expand and refine our strategy list. After each successive round of exploring mentor texts, students returned to their own writing and tried a mentor strategy to revise what they had written. To ensure that students were meeting learning targets, we utilized exit passes as formative checks for understanding.

As the drafts took shape, teachers shared their own “Why I Write” drafts and had students locate strategies and offer feedback. Students then offered each other peer feedback on which strategies were working and which needed further attention.

Eventually, we turned to writing conferences during which students identified areas of revision and generated questions for the conference using a writer’s checklist. During the conferences, students took their own notes. Literacy specialists pushed into classes to help confer with students and ensure that each student received meaningful formative feedback.

On the day their writing was due, we held a celebration of writing. NCTE’s #WhyIWrite site reminded us that collectively, telling why we write “gives voice to who you are and enables you to give voice to the things that matter to you.” So we decided to frame our celebration around “raising the volume”. In a gallery walk, students perused each other’s writing, located memorable lines, and quoted each other to build a collage of words on the whiteboard under #WhyIWrite. Placing the markers in students’ hands compelled them to appreciate each other’s words and to call out the student who uses writing to cope with reality, the friend whose journals capture everyday musings, and the peer whose written words create rich, imaginative worlds.

The written products were genuine in their self-reflection, rich with strategies gleaned from the mentor texts, authentic in voice and expression. We read stories of academic triumphs, sacred family reading times, private chronicles of the intimacies of their daily lives, and beaming elementary teachers who inspired our students to see themselves as writers for the very first time. Most importantly, students expressed that their love of writing dramatically waned as they advanced through the grades. Their pieces echoed a resounding desire to regain the love of writing that they once had as younger students. This not only validated our work but reinforces the enormity of the task we face as English teachers. It is our responsibility to teach all students at all levels that writing matters. Our students are writers with stories to tell—stories that deserve to be heard. Hopefully, we have brought them one step closer to gaining the tools and confidence needed to believe in themselves once again as writers who can change the world.

Amy Miller (Twitter @FHSEnglishCT) is the English department leader and Meghan Jones (Twitter @FHSliteracy) is a literacy specialist and instructional coach at Farmington High School in Farmington, CT.

In Honor of This Year’s National Day on Writing, Write for Civic Action!

The following post was written by Nicole Mirra and is part of an ongoing monthly series from the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

In response to many of the recent controversies, injustices, and tragedies that have rocked our nation, folks are consistently turning to education in order to raise awareness and spark action. It seems that news organizations and nonprofit groups are offering resources weekly, whether in response to white supremacist marches in Charlottesville, NFL #TakeAKnee protests, or the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

The reason for these outpouring of resources is simple—we know that young people turn to their teachers for guidance as they seek to make sense of what is happening in the country. As a society, we look to schools to process national events and to imbue the next generation with the knowledge, compassion, and values to do better than the ones that came before and make our nation better, kinder, wiser.

As a result, it is crucial that we teachers recognize ourselves as powerful civic agents, not only in the classroom but also in our daily lives. Ironically, at the same time that we ask teachers to help young people understand national events, we also often insist that they avoid wading into controversial waters and present a completely neutral, objective face to young people. As previous NCTE resources have explained, there is no apolitical classroom—everything we do in the classroom, from how we manage relationships with students to what texts we teach, transmits a political message to students about the nature of democratic life.

So let’s be conscious about kind of society we want for our students and ourselves. Let’s reflect not only on our classroom practices, but also on ways we can advocate for public education, our students, and our communities in our capacity as citizens.

In honor of the National Day on Writing, which is coming up on October 20, consider the various ways that you can write for civic action:

1. Make your practice public: Write a blog entry for NCTE! Contribute to the NCTE Village! Tell the world about how you are shaping the next generation of citizens in your classroom by sharing instructional strategies, curriculum resources, or examples of student work.

2. Write to your elected representatives: Tell the folks who represent you about the issues that matter most to you and your students! Here are some short webinars courtesy of the NCTE Studies in Literacy and Multimedia (SLAM) Assembly that can help you get started:

a. SLAM School: Letter-Writing;

b. SLAM School: Contacting Your Representatives.

3. Get involved in NCTE Advocacy: Take a look at the NCTE Resources for Taking Action and Action You Can Do At Home and commit to one small action in order to make your voice heard on the issues that affect your classroom

While teaching is the most crucial civic action that most of us engage in on a daily basis, there is much more that we can do to make our voices heard at the local and national level. Writing is a powerful way for us to share our expertise with a wider audience and insist that educators have a seat at the table when decisions are made that affect our students, our schools, and our communities.

Celebrate Writing All Month Long!

In light of the significance of writing in our national life, to draw attention to the remarkable variety of writing we engage in, and to help writers from all walks of life recognize how important writing is to their lives, NCTE established October 20 as the National Day on Writing. For the ninth year in a row, October 20 will be a day devoted to the importance of writing in our lives. To gear up to celebrate the National Day on Writing, NCTE plans to share resources on writing the entire month of October! Here are some ideas for you to celebrate writing all month long:

  • Encourage your students to uncover all of the different kinds of writing they do on a daily basis by asking them to keep a list of everything they write, from text messages to school assignments, e-mails to diary entries, in a single day.
  • After students make a list of everything they wrote in a day, help them see the variety in their writing, both individually and as a class. Post colorful chart paper with age-appropriate questions about purpose, audience, genre or type, and technology around the room.
  • Ask students to brainstorm different categories for each poster based on the writing they did. Write these categories on the posters and then have students contribute examples from their personal lists. Facilitate a gallery walk of the posters once students have contributed to all of them.
  • Encourage students to view and reflect on all kinds of writing – no matter the purpose, audience, type, or technology.

As you celebrate writing in October, share out with others using the hashtag #WhyIWrite!

Writing to Remember: Celebrating the National Day of Writing #WhyIWrite

This post is written by member Peg Grafwallner. 

peggrafwallnerAbout a year ago I reevaluated my writing career. As an Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist at a large urban high school, I decided it was time to concentrate on my writing. While I have always loved to write and always enjoyed teaching writing, I wasn’t giving myself the time or space to write. Now that I no longer had my own classroom or my own roster of students, I had time in the evening to write about my nearly 23 years of teaching.

My website gave me the opportunity to share my musings with those who “followed” me. But I knew I was missing a broader audience. I wanted to write authentically, for purpose. I think back to my own students who wrote the iconic five-paragraph essay after every novel (I’ve learned better since then!) and realized that I was the only audience reading their papers. I didn’t give them a chance to write for anyone but me.

Since November 2015, I have been published in Edutopia, Literacy Daily, ASCDExpress, ASCDInservice, Exceptional Parent, and the Wisconsin State Reading Association Journal. The reason I mention these publications is because when I collaborate with teachers and help to create writing lessons, I want to share my writing journey with them and, most important, with their students. I want their students to know that writing is hard—there is no magical formula, except to write. I am not gifted or special; this writing thing is pure work and pure joy.

I write because I have to. It’s not a matter of “maybe” or “possibly.”  Much like a runner has to run and a chef has to cook, I write to express myself and to humbly put myself in a student’s place. What is it like when a due date or deadline is looming and there is so much to do? I don’t want to forget that challenge of brainstorming an idea, writing a rough draft, proofreading, revising, asking for feedback, revising, proofreading, and asking for feedback.

Today I write this post to honor the National Day on Writing and to honor all of us writers, remembering that writing can only get better if we have the space and time to write for purpose and for ourselves.

Peg Grafwallner is an Instructional Coach and Reading Specialist at a large urban high school. Peg draws on her nearly 23 years of experience and expertise to focus on engagement, motivation and interventions to create student opportunities of learning and inquiry.  

The Night Before the National Day on Writing

Thanks to Lisa Fink for this blog.

It’s the night before the National Day on Writing and maybe you’re still thinking about what you and your students might do to celebrate.

nctechatParticipants in last Sunday’s #NCTEchat offer some ideas that might inspire you.

• Jeanne Bissonnette (@JDB_ISU) thinks it would be fun to do a live tweet like #NCTEchat. Her suggestion would be to roll out the questions one at a time. She also thinks it would be a good idea to have the students generate the questions.
• ShelfieTalk (‏@ShelfieTalk) already shares what “I am currently reading…”. The promise was made to share current writing in the same way.
• Rebecca Owens ‏(@Imbue_MissOwens) shared a great quote from Malcolm Gladwell.
• Jennifer Laffin (@laffinteach) brainstormed and created a list of ways to celebrate the National Day on Writing.
celebrate• UIUCWritersWorkshop (@WorkshopUIUC) likes to use graffiti walls (but only in sanctioned spaces!) as a means of showing writing is revised, dialogic, etc.
• Stefanie Cole (@MsColeQVPS) is planning on showcasing #WhyIWrite authors videos and their books everyday this week.
• Tynea Lewis (@TyneaLewis) encourages folks to write a reflection for #WhyIWrite as “It’s a great way to reignite the passion of writing in yourself.”
• Jen Schwanke (@JenSchwanke) wonders that since we do Read-Ins, could we do a Write-In?
• 90-Second Newbery (@90secondnewbery) suggests writing collaborate list poetry. “It makes writing accessible, fun and engaging!” Read more at http://ow.ly/hoWc305erC5.
• Vince Puzick (@2HeartedRiver) proposes inviting authors to class.
• Mrs.McLoud (@MrsMcLoudRI) plans to do freewrites outside if the weather permits. “Writing is a treat- present it so!”
iwritebecauseiaminasconstantstateofrevision• Katie Kraushaar (@MsKraushaar) wants to collect #WhyIWrite statements from the entire school! She is thinking about posting butcher paper in lunchroom.
• Karen DiBella (@ksdibella) recommends creating a story based on a page from a wordless picture book. Her suggestion was using Unspoken by Henry Cole.
• ValerieAPerson (@vperson) will be holding a “Writing Palooza” in library during lunches to celebrate the 20th.
• Alan Goodrow (@MrGoodrow) is thinking that a class-combined written story is an activity that he would love to try.
• Peg Grafwallner (@PegGrafwallner) is looking forward to uploading her #WhyIWrite post to her website as well as sharing a lesson plan with teachers and students.

Tomorrow it’s time to celebrate and to share writing, pictures, videos, celebrations to #WhyIWrite. Find out what people are saying about #WhyIWrite here.

• Join author Linda Sue Park (@LindaSuePark) who said, “I write because for me there’s no better way to explore & learn about both the world & myself, at the same time.”