Thursday, January 23, 2014

Writing Essentials

"Writing is worthwhile in and of itself.  It's important for teachers and students to internalize this." 
Ruth Ayres

I just started blogging so that I can discover my own writing process.  As I am growing and learning I am recognizing that there are some writing essentials that I currently need as a writer.  These essentials push me and motivate me.  These essentials are: choice, time, feedback, a reading life, reflection and celebration.  I am trying to implement these essentials into my lessons with students.  

Ralph Fletcher says, "Student choice is the crucial fuel that drives a healthy workshop.  The choice isn't limited to deciding on what to write about.  We invite students to have choice in length, audience, and the pace with which they write."  Children need to have the time to do choice writing so that they can discover their writing voice. 

It is crucial that students write everyday.  When I miss a day of writing, my writing habit is on a hiatus that sometimes lingers on for three or four days. It is so much harder to get back into that habit.  I find excuses as to why I don't have time to write or that I don't know what to write about.  My writing fluency and stamina are slowed down during my writing hiatus which affects my motivation to write.  When this happens I need to think about what Dave Burgess says, "Taking the first step is always the hardest part of the journey."  I just need to push the "new post button" and just start writing so I can get my ideas down.  I can always go back and rewrite parts of the blog.  Seymour Simon says, "Most writers don't write they rewrite and rewrite and rewrite."  

If students don't have time to write daily how can they develop writing habits to help them better understand their writing process. I know it is very challenging to balance all we have to do in a day.  Ruth Ayres says, "The mission of writing workshop is to help people learn to be writers for life."   Writing can be a powerful tool.  People who write..
  • learn about who they are as a person and writer
  • the power their words have on others
  • how writing can help them deal with a difficult time or celebrate something big
  • how their reading life impacts their writing life
  • the ability to slow down and see the world through writer's eyes  

One of our fifth graders posted this on her blog as she is embarking on her writing journey:
"The way I see writing is that you can write down anything that has happened to you.  You can change the names in your writing so you can express your feelings and no one knows it. I love doing that because you don’t hear the voice in your head telling you that you are sad or telling you there is nothing you can do about it, because there is always something you can do about it."

This student is devoting time to write daily both at home and at school.  The more she writes the more she discovers her writing voice and process.  This will help her craft pieces more effeciently.

Feedback and Celebration
I read Ruth Ayres book titled Celebrating Writers. Her book really helped me understand how big of an impact feedback and celebration have on a writer. She says, " Feedback is the key to creating a community of writers who celebrate together." 

Recently, I had a writing luncheon with a couple of fifth graders.  We celebrated the idea for their chapter book and some strong lines in their writing.  We also celebrated the feedback they gave each other as they crafted their first two chapters.  Gabrielle's writing advice, "When you end your chapter, leave your readers hanging so they will want to read on to the next chapter."  Alyssa is taking Gabrielle's advice and using it as she ends her chapters.  They read their chapter endings to each other to see how well they crafted the ending and how their readers might react.  I was so thrilled to be a part of the celebrating, and I witnessed how their feedback fueled each other to keep writing, even through the hard parts.

Ruth Ayres also states, "It is also by giving feedback that we learn how to talk to writers in meaningful ways."  This is so true.  As the two fifth graders and myself immersed ourselves into their writing we really had a powerful writing discussion about how writers work.  

As we conference with students during writing workshop we are modeling how to give constructive feedback.  Ruth Ayres says this is only the first step in the process.  Our explicit language used in our mini-lessons and the writing partnerships help students develop the skills to give and receive meaningful feedback to each other.  

This essential is something I need to spend more time doing as a writer. Since this is an area I need to work on I am going to rely on Ruth Ayres great advice from her book titled Celebrating Writers.   Ruth Ayres says, "Reflection is thinking about what you do and how you feel about it." If I want to continue to grow as a writer then I really need to take the time to reflect on my craft and my process.  

Some powerful quotes from Celebrating Writers on reflective practice:
  • Without reflection, students are missing out on an opportunity to grow. 
  • The heart of reflective practice is using self-evaluation to strengthen your craft.
  • As we reflect on our writing process, we learn how to work efficiently as writers.
I will start with personal reflections.  Ruth Ayres says, "Personal reflections are for the writer's eyes only and are designed to stretch the writer, encouraging risks in process and product."  My first step towards personal reflection will be writing down my strengths and weaknesses as a writer in my writer's notebook. 

I think it is easy to forget that each writer's process is unique and personal.  It is our job to help students find their own writing process by embracing some of these writing essentials.  This involves reading, talking, writing, sharing, reflecting and celebrating with the writers in our classroom.


  1. Tonya you offer so many great bits of advice and discovery on your journey. I love reading your post and look forward to more. the quote of the fifth grade student is powerful! Good luck to the writer inside that student!

  2. Everything you write about is crucial to becoming a better writer. There is so much power in the fact that you are taking the time and finding the space to be a writer yourself. Teachers who write are powerful writing teachers. I love the quote from the fifth grader. She is paying attention to craft!

  3. Tonya,
    You said, "If students don't have time to write daily how can they develop writing habits to help them better understand their writing process." This line really stood out to me. It's so difficult to carve out time for daily writing. With more standardized assessment it is easy to lose sight of the bigger goals for young writers. Additionally, daily writing can be challenging. Just like, as writers, we go through challenging writing times, our students will do these same things. The community lifts the writer and supports his/her work. Your post is a great reminder of all that is essential in a daily workshop. Thanks for sharing,

  4. I really enjoyed this blog! One of my goals this year is to create a better community of writers. I have been focusing on CHOICE and TIME. After seeing how much my students enjoy writing this year, I completely reworked my daily schedule so we would have more time for writers workshop. I really appreciate how you said, "It is our job to help students find their own writing process by embracing some of these writing essentials." This is a good reminder that we are teaching the writer, not the writing.