I believe in the power of words to help us heal and grow. Writing is magic. Writing helps us process ideas, learn new things, and connect with others. As a result, the teaching of writing is mission critical for educators. I take this mission very seriously whether I am working with developing writers or experienced teachers. I believe everyone is a writer.
The challenge for teachers is that not everyone believes they are a writer and so we must begin with writing self-efficacy and agency. I foster writing self-efficacy and agency through modeling, discussion, and reflection, but the most essential component is community. Every class meeting begins with a writing prompt and I write with my students. Every class meeting includes a discussion of the writing inspired by the prompt and I frequently share my writing with my students – especially early in the semester while students are still learning to trust the process. Every week also includes short out-of-class writing assignments posted to our class blog that build on the in-class writing and bring in additional sources of inspiration ranging from articles to videos. These sources are initially provided by me, but over time I hand that responsibility off to the class. Through this series of writing prompts and discussions, we model the brainstorming and drafting stage of the writing process. By the time I give my students a formal assignment they have written hundreds of words on the topic and engaged in hours of reflection and discussion. We then conduct class workshops to develop those ideas and words into drafts and shape those rough drafts into final products. The final products are then evaluated using a scoring guide that we develop as a class. Each unit wraps up with an individual self-assessment reflection and the opportunity to recognize the contributions of their classmates to the student’s journey and the community by awarding badges.
My goal is to help my students understand how the writing process can be an effective tool on their journey as a writer. We not only work through the process together, but we also discuss it throughout, so students can understand how best to support their own process after they leave my class. While this growing understanding of process is essential to the writer’s development, it is their participation in our writing community that often contributes the most to their growing writing self-efficacy and agency as writers are recognized for a variety of contributions and small successes.
That is how I make writers, but the journey does not end there. Once we have established the unit rhythm and our class community we are ready for the main event – project-based learning. With my general education students this involves sharing the life lessons gleaned from popular culture media with middle school students and with my upper level and graduate students this requires the development of a career- or classroom-related project (as appropriate for the individual and the class). I do these things because I want my students to understand that their learning and work in these classes is part of something bigger and more important. Even more importantly, I want to teach my students how rhetorical context drives writing.
My development as a teacher of writing who also teaches other teachers of writing has been informed by four primary sources: my experience as a professional writer, my decades of experience working with writers of every age in a variety of settings, my four post-secondary degrees in English, and my work with the National Writing Project. Both my newsroom and fiction experience taught me a healthy respect for both the writing process and the support of writing/editing partners; however, it was working with writers as a primary school volunteer that really developed my writing conference chops. I was also fortunate that both of my master’s programs involved hands-on learning while simultaneously studying pedagogy and many mini-lessons I still use today were developed during those years. My coursework at Texas Tech coincided with my introduction to the National Writing Project and it is hard to separate the influence of working with so many talented educators during that time. The professional learning network that sustains and challenges me today is a wonderful confluence of these two communities. It was my PLN that led to my passion for the study of writing self-efficacy and agency, as well as the methods I use to foster it, but, more important to me, my PLN has taught me the importance of community to personal and professional growth – a lesson I use in every single class I teach.
I am a writer and a teacher of writers and a teacher of writing teachers. I learn from and with my students every day, because I sit beside them to write and share our writing and talk about our ideas. I see my classroom, whether online or in person, as a studio learning environment where activities of production are undertaken individually, but everyone works together to discuss and support the work in progress. I see myself as the lead learner who builds the framework and steps up to provide the just-in-time instruction needed to move the work forward, but who also empowers other learners to provide the guidance and support their (sometimes newfound) expertise and experience offers.
Every semester my students tell me they have never experienced a class quite like mine and they wish all their classes were built around a community workshop, but the most cherished comments come from my online students who tell me they feel closer to their online classmates than they do to those who sit beside them in a physical classroom. I make more confident, self-regulating writers and in the process we all become better thinkers and human beings. I have the most awesome job in the world.
How do you make writers? How to you teach writing and the writing process? How do you support student engagement in the writing classroom?