“When students learn how to create and navigate their own writing lives through independent work they are able to take the gifts of the workshop model even further. They are more able to become lifelong writers because it is their vision they are following.” Colleen Cruz – Independent Writing
“Mrs. Sherriff!” I heard Kayla whisper up at me as we were ending our Journal Pages time together. “Yes, Kayla?” I turned and looked at her. “Last weekend, I was on a bike ride with my dad and my sister and I saw a pine cone in the road and I stopped quick so I could pick it up. My dad almost crashed into me! Then I saw a piece of bark and another pine cone. We stopped and picked them all up. My dad had to ride one handed on the way home because he was carrying all the stuff.” “Why did you pick up all that stuff?” I asked even though I had an inkling as to why. I wanted to hear what she had to say. “When we got home, I observed everything just like we did for Journal Pages and then I wrote.” “Wow, Kayla. That is pretty cool. You were living like a writer!” She smiled and walked away.
“Mrs. Sherriff!” I hear Leigh-ann call. I go into her room and she beckons Cyrus over. “Cyrus, tell Mrs. Sherriff what your brought in today.” He looks up at her with a quizzical look, trying to remember. Suddenly he blurts out, “Oh yeah! I brought in giant leaf! I found it when I was at my brothers baseball game and I thought we could use it for Journal Pages.” “Wow, Cyrus, that is pretty cool. Writers are always observing. I think it’s pretty neat that you were thinking about writing while you were at your brothers game!”
After reading Ralph Fletcher’s, Joy Write, last spring, a group of teachers and I began to wonder about the role of journals in our writing instruction. We wondered how could we, how would we, fit in our already jam packed weeks. We wondered how journals could form our units of study and how our units of study could inform our journal pages. We knew that many writers carried notebooks or journals and yet this crucial piece for a writer was missing from many of classrooms.
I, personally wondered, if Journals could give children a space to experience the unstructured, playful part of being a writer. I knew, from experience, that Journals play a role in any writers life. I know, because I have kept one for 26 years. I know because my third graders kept Journals and they were essential to each child in my classroom. Back then, before Units of Study were born, they were the heart of my Writers Workshop.
Recently, I got my hands on Colleen Cruz’s, Independent Writing.and she has me reflecting and thinking ahead.
I’ve been reflecting on where a small group of teachers, including myself, have researched the role of, what Ralph Fletcher calls “greenbelt writing”. “Greenbelt writing is meaning-based, not meant for public consumption.” Throughout the year, two 5th grade teachers and 2 first grade teachers committed to one writing period a week that would be filled with choice and freedom and we hoped, joyful, empowered writers. We’ve been able to weave in art and Jennifer Laffin’s Word of the Day. We’ve been able to watch writers find their voice in art and words. We’ve been able to watch as writers uncover stories, memories, moments and pictures from their lives.
Ben is a first grader whose sketches are rough. Yet when he sketches, he thinks. He finds the ideas and stories that are calling to be written. He often writes about his older sister Lexie. He often shares how much he has learned about Adolf Hitler and World War II from Lexie. It is clear from his journal pages that Lexie is more than just a sister, she is an expert that Ben admires and learns from. Ben knows his journal is a place to admire all that Lexie teaches him. It is a place for him to begin to make sense of it all.
James is a fifth grader. A quiet fifth grade boy. He often quietly makes his choice as we begin Journal Pages each Friday morning. He sneaks off to a floor spot and settles in near a few friends. When this first started, I admit, I was cautiously optimistic that they could write and think in their chosen spot. I learned the power of friends who embrace the same genre can be empowering. You see, these boys became the comic experts. In his journal, James could take the Word of the Day and incorporate it into a comic with simple sketches and carefully chosen words. He knows his journal is a place for playing with genre.
Avery is another first grader who loves to play with the Word of the Day. For her, one word can spark a memory, a description, a picture or a poem. She knows her journal is a place to play a place to uncover what she has to say. Recently, her teacher, Leigh-ann and I watched her play with the word SKY. Her description fell onto the page and after a little suggestion, she pulled out her favorite words and wrote a poem. The next week we watched her play with the word DISAPPOINT. We watched as she connected her poem from the previous week to her current thinking. She sees that possibilities are endless when your are playing in your journal. She knows her journal is a space for is a place creation and discovery.
I’ve been thinking ahead. Where will we go? Our work with the forward thinking Mary Ehrenworth, has me thinking about balancing the specific work of genre based units with the role of a journal. I believe in the role of each in our classrooms. We need to provide space for Journals where children can discover their ideas and voices. A place where writers can uncover what they have to say. The voice of the writer should be at the heart of all our instruction.
I am not sure where our work will go but when I think about the Journal Pages I’ve seen throughout the year, and what I’ve read so far in, Independent Writing, I know my wonderings will stay alive.