Know Yourself, Know Your Writers

Joy Writers #3


“We need to look at student writing.”  A comment I have heard over the past few years. I’ve thought about this comment recently.   I’ve realized that we have looked at writing.  We’ve piled writing based on rubrics.  We’ve brought samples of work to meetings and focused on what the writer was doing well.  All of the conversations in these situations were valuable, teachers and administrators were growing a shared understanding of writing at various grade levels.  However, as a participant and observer at these meetings, I always wondered about their impact on writers. Were these conversations going to help teachers and the writers in their classrooms?  I don’t know the answer, but I do know that I believe that in order to move beyond looking at writing, and move towards focusing on the writer, we must be writers ourselves.  We must have our own writing identity (Patty McGee, Feedback that Moves Writers Forward) in order to nurture the writing identity of the children we teach.

Joy Writers met again.  This meeting was more of a spontaneous gathering on our first unofficial day back.

At our 2nd summer meeting, teachers had asked about meeting and planning a bit about how they each were going to follow through on the ideas and bring the same energy to their new classes.  These teachers as writers wanted to meet, so we met.

We gathered in a first grade classroom.  One third grade teacher found out about the meeting in the hallway, did an about face, returned to her room to get her journal and joined the meeting.  A fifth grade teacher moved his grade level meeting from 9:30-10:00 (his team was understanding and supportive).  A second grade teacher, who was unable to attend any summer meetings, but read Joy Write came and she brought with her one of our brand new teachers.

We simply went around the table, teachers shared their ideas on how they were going to infuse greenbelt time into their days.  One shared about how she plans on showing her first graders why/how she might write or draw.   She acknowledged the rigor of the school but wants to let it be it’s thing.  “However it grows it grows, I’m not going to let it overwhelm me.” she said.

Another teacher created a physical space in her kindergarten classroom.  “I’ve raised a table for inquiry.  I hope to put things – acorns, flowers, cards – for kids to observe.” She added, “I want to let kids use journals during the  morning  and have softer start to the day.”

A physical space was created in a 5th grade room with a variety of writing supplies that support the inquiry of a writer – pens, paper, paint.  In looking at his schedule for the year, he noticed that one day in the week his Writers Workshop is shorter than the other four, “this might be my greenbelt day” he said.  He ended by sharing, “I also want to think about publishing, maybe taking on the SOL challenge for kids.”

A second grade teacher, who had previously taught 3rd grade for a number of years, now in her second year as a second grade teacher, shared, “When I came to second grade, there were no journals.  Reading Joy Write gave me permission to go back to journals.  In the morning have them come in and they can write whatever they want, a memory, a cartoon, a letter – whatever they want.”

A first grade teacher was the last to share, “Thank you all because I’m doing what you said and you said so much.”  she chuckled.  She reflected on the work she’s done as a Joy Writer this summer, “In all the invitations we’ve had, there has always been choice.  I need to incorporate more of this real choice.”  She ended by saying, “I’m so glad I got to listen to everyone else first.”

I was raised to live the questions (Powers and Hubbard, The Art of Classroom Inquiry).  As I sat and listened to their ideas and stories, I translated them to questions:

 “What happens when I show my first graders why/how I might draw or write.” 

“What happens when I give my second graders journals?’  

“What happens when I create opportunities and space for inquiry and play for writers.” 

“What happens when I am aware and purposeful with choice for writers?”

In his essay, On the Virtue of Thinking Small, Tom Newkirk writes, “It is the small changes that last. They last because they are grafted onto, and extend, our existing practice.”  He goes on to explain the 5 percent rule, “each year, they need to open 5 percent of their practice up to change.”  Over time the accumulation of change is “significant. But it does not at any time wholly transform.”

I continue to wonder what will happen if these teachers, colleagues of mine, continue growing themselves as writers.   I wonder what stories will emerge from their young writers as a result of their questions. Will Joy Writers and their questions be their 5 percent? Will Joy Writers support the work of looking at writers and not the writing alone?  I don’t know the answers, but with this group of teachers as writers, I imagine we will find some answers and definitely more questions.








5 thoughts on “Know Yourself, Know Your Writers”

  1. I really enjoyed reading about everyone’s plans. Small, realistic ideas that may turn into something grand. I loved the organic comment, see what happens. I can’t wait to see what’s happening four weeks from now. So proud!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing the powerful, dynamic work you’re doing together. Inspiring! I also love the Tom Newkirk quote and his 5% Rule. I hope you’ll keep us updated on how your year progresses.

    Liked by 1 person

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