MAKING Writing: What, Why, and 6 Ways to Begin

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Many children and adults will tell you that writing is quite literally out of their grasp. They can’t wrap their hands around it, and since this is how they learn best, writing remains beyond their reach. Many writers need to move, and they need their writing to move as well. They need to write out of their seats and on their feet, spreading their ideas across whiteboards and tables, lifting pieces of them up with their hands, cutting them apart, randomizing them, and tacking them into new and completely unpredictable forms. These writers need access to diverse tools and resources– far more than paper, laptops, and iPads.

They build their stories using blocks and boards.

They blend plot lines using sticky notes and grids.

It’s not enough for these writers to study mentor texts. They need to tear them apart–physically. They need to use their hands to play with other peoples’ writing, and they need to tinker with their own in order to become adept.

I’ve learned to listen when my students tell me that they can’t write and don’t want to. This used to be hard to hear when I was a young teacher and thought it was my job to convince them otherwise. Experience makes better listeners of us all, though. I used to think that I knew what writing was and how to teach it well, until I stopped teaching long enough to become a learner. I began by inviting my students to write whatever they wanted, using the tools that suited them best. Then, I started paying attention. Time and again, assessing my students’ behavior validated what every resistant writer has ever suggested: writing isn’t something that everyone can but it is something that most people can MAKE given the right conditions. How does this look?

Here are six ways to begin MAKING writing:

  • When working with mentor texts, share them in ways that make them manipulative. Place large chunks of text on chart paper where writers can work with them. Provide copies of texts that students can slice and tinker with. Encourage kids to participate in mentor texts “tear downs.” Literally.
  • Teach students to write like their favorite authors and poets. Coach creative theft.
  • Show writers how to tinker with text. One approach involves lifting a small portion of a text out of a draft and placing it where it can be messed with. Invite the writer to brainstorm or research different approaches for improving the work, and then let them revise these small bits of text multiple ways before choosing the one that they prefer. Once they’ve made a choice, they can drop the revision back into their drafts.
  • MAKING writing is about composing bit by bit and using tools that enable our writing to move. Writers plan and draft using sticky notes, foam boards, paper scrolls, story boards, and index cards among other things.
  • In order to MAKE writing, kids need access to diverse tools. They must also be encouraged to think about other just-right tools and resources that would empower them. Add these to your collection slowly and over time, as kids need. Invite them to bring in tools from home as well.
  • Rather than teaching linear structures, invite writers to build their pieces one block at a time, and not necessarily in order. Then, show them how to snap the pieces together.

Making writing inside of schools isn’t about abandoning writers’ workshop or evading standards. It’s about pursuing outcomes in ways that support writers who need to move, build, mix, tinker, blend, sculpt, shoot, smear, and tack their writing together. Physically. It’s about challenging individuals to identify and use the materials and processes they need to in order to meet their goals and agreed upon learning targets. Making writing is about accessing the voices of those that we serve and listening hard. It’s about paying attention to how individuals write and responding to what we observe rather than allowing our expertise and assumptions to drive instruction.

Making writing requires a certain kind of space, a certain kind of culture, just right tools, and a commitment to using our words to make a meaningful difference for others. At the WNY Young Writer’s Studio, I work with teachers who are ready to transform their community based writing groups and preK-12 classrooms into communities that empower writers. We write beside kids and pay close attention to everything they can teach us. We also share everything that we learn. I welcome you to join us there, and if you aren’t local, look forward to keeping up with us in this space and on our Studio site as well.

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