Is your classroom a writing ecosystem?

A the cornerstone of my writing pedagogy is the writing workshop and in order for that writing workshop to work well I need to think about my classroom as a ecosystem. I suspect that many of my past struggles with workshop have been when I have paid too much attention to one aspect of the writing workshop which then threw the entire ecosystem out of balance. I find the idea of a writing ecosystem an useful tool for thinking about my classroom and planning my classes as well as trouble shooting throughout the semester. Ecosystems are the self-sustaining structural and functional interaction between living and nonliving components. How can we think about writing workshop in these terms?

Teacher = Energy

The teacher and their goals is the driving force behind any class as we set the goals and the direction as well as the structure. While we cannot always control the energy we possess (because life) we can control the energy level in the classroom by the types of activities we engage in with our students and the goals that we set for our work. One of the reasons that I like to use themes in my classes is because I want my students to engage in critical thinking as well as learn self-regulation, but I also want them to have fun. At the bottom of everything I do is the goal that I want my students to fall in love with writing and believe in their power as writers. That is the energy that I bring to my writing ecosystem. What is your end game?

Classroom = Habitat

What is the right temperature for your classroom? How much space do your students need to thrive and grow? I don’t think about temperature in my classroom in terms of hot or cold (after all, how many of us have actual control over our thermostats?), but rather the level of comfort. Honestly, I don’t want my students to be too comfortable. I want them to feel just a little pushed, a little challenged, but not so much that it feels impossible. I don’t want the work to feel so familiar and easy that they can simply coast. I also like designing a class that gives them a lot of space to experiment and play. I want them to have choices, so they can learn what that feels like and how different choices lead to different outcomes. What is your goal for your classroom?

Ideas = Air

Without oxygen we will die and without ideas our writing will die. Where will your students get their ideas? Depending on the goals and focus of your class student writing can be inspired by their internal lives, their external influences, or specific texts you or they bring into the classroom. Each of these approaches will take your class and the writing of your students in different directions. Sometimes I have taken classes on a journey through each of these influences and other times we have focused on one specific inspiration for our writing. Sometimes this choice can be as focused as a specific theme or textbook and other times this can be as open and individual as your students. What is the air that you want your students to breathe in your classroom?

Work = Water

Without water we will shrivel and die and without meaningful authentic work writers will as well. I have written before about my disdain for disposable assignments. When students know an assignment is disposable they automatically shift into autopilot (because humans). So how can you assign meaningful authentic work? Choice plays an important role here because students care more about work that they have invested in personally, but so does focusing students on work that matters to their lives. That is why I so often focus my classes around project (or passion) based learning. My American Literacy theme is another approach to engaging students in work that matters to them. What kind of meaningful work will most engage your students?

Community = Food

Just as food sustains our bodies, community sustains our hearts and our souls. This makes community essential to learning and especially to learning to write. Writing is not a solo activity. We need others to discuss ideas, serve as inspiration, and provide an audience. How can you build in these activities? How can you create a community to sustain your writers?

How do you think about your classroom? How do you think about your goals as part of the larger ecosystem of that classroom? How do you find the right balance that supports your goals as a teacher, the space your students need to thrive, the ideas that will inspire them, the work that will engage them, and the community that will support them?

Author: Deanna Mascle
#TeachingWriting and leading #NWP site @ Morehead State (KY): Passionate about #AuthenticWriting, #DeeperLearning, #PBL, #Ungrading, and #HyperDocs.

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