Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How to build a classroom writing community

Day 1: but this pattern holds true for the days to follow
  • Tell them to look around at the other writers in the room (For some, this is a frightening experience, for others confirmation.)  Recognize them immediately as writers.  If you have returning students, ask them to explain the difference between this class and an English class.  Their words will be more convincing then yours.  Your actions will support what they say.
  • Provide a prompt to write to and give instructions: write about anything that comes to mind.  Give them a set amount of time, about 7 minutes.
  • Each student shares by reading his/her response to the prompt.  Encourage returning students to go first.  (I follow a seniority pattern.  By setting this now, it won't be a surprise in a workshop [see post for June 16, 2012], and it shows the new students what behavior is expected [and accepted: writers are quirky]). Some students refuse to share; explain that you allow this occasionally, but they must at least tell what they wrote about or what they hoped to write about.  Encourage them to share the next time.
  • Each student's work must be acknowledged.  Point out a strong image, what you think the idea might develop into, or summarize it.  Don't forget to smile.
  •  Diversity is already present, but it is important to point it out.  New writers in a creative writing class will often try to emulate (or think they should) the more polished writers which results in the sacrifice of their own individual voices. So point out the diversity and how it is a bonus for the class to have so many different styles present.  Encourage them to help each other develop this diversity.
  • Begin your lesson for the day.  All writing should be shared and encouraged. No lesson should lack an opportunity to write.  Some should just be shared and left in the journal.  Some writing should be turned in and graded for effort to fulfill the task.  Grading should be gentle: attempt is much more important than result. (Final work, I grade mercilessly, but practice is a different animal.)
By having a pattern of daily writing and sharing, your class will become a community.  Be a positive role model: be specific, encouraging and excited about what they are doing.

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