Making and Writing: Get Beyond the Gimmicks

This month, I’ll be celebrating the second birthday of Make Writing, the little book that could. When I wrote it, I never imagined that I would get to meet and learn from so many of you who I’ve come to call my colleagues and friends over the last two years. This has been a rewarding journey, and each bend in the road has surfaced new and important questions about making and writing and the relationship they often share.

I’m grateful to those of you who think and test and play and wonder about this stuff as much as I do.

And I’ll be honest: I worry about those who don’t.

Over the last two years, I’ve met many wonderful writing teachers who connect with my work in different ways, and I learn a great deal from all of them. Two particular groups are compelling me most, though: Those who integrate making with purpose and intention, in order to elevate the process and the rigor of the work, and those who are dazzled by the possibility of entertaining kids who dislike writing by giving them some fun stuff to do…..instead of writing.

When making moves writers and writing forward, that’s growth.

When making relieves writers from writing, that’s a problem.

After surveying those who follow this blog, I’ve decided to devote the next series of posts on specific strategies that leverage the connection between making and writing. I think it’s important to begin the conversation by grounding ourselves in powerful purposes and a clear vision.

What’s yours?

Why are you drawn to this work?

What do you hope to achieve?

What might be compromised by integrating making and writing in your own classroom?

How do we ensure that what we do moves writers and their writing forward?

How do we use making to elevate the process and lift rigor, rather than diminishing either or both?

While it will be rewarding to share some of my favorite strategies here over the next several weeks and introduce you to teachers who are testing these approaches in their classrooms, I want to begin by inviting you to reflect on the visual at the top of this post. I stumbled upon the connection between making and writing ten years ago, as I was conducting action research in my own very small world.

I was getting to know the writers that I supported in my studio, and many of them were confronting challenges that best practices weren’t helping them resolve. I wanted to design learning experiences that would help them overcome those problems. I was the learner. They were my teachers. I didn’t know anything about design thinking then. I used grounded theory methodologies and became very passionate about pedagogical documentation.

But it was design thinking.

It’s still design thinking.

And so, if you’re truly interested in getting the most out of making in the writing workshop, I’d invite you to learn more about design thinking first. My ideas are experimental. There are not best practices. They were my next practices, when what was best didn’t help my students enough. You might find them promising too, but please: Don’t simply lift and drop make writing strategies into your classroom without a greater vision, purpose, or process in place for testing them and making thoughtful determinations about fit.

Commit to growth, not gimmicks.

You can learn more about design thinking here:

I’ll be back on Tuesday to begin sharing the best of what I’m learning about making and writing from kids and teachers on the ground each day. Get ready to read all about the good, the bad, and the ugly. I hope you’ll share your stories and the challenges you’re facing, too.

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