Celebrate This Week: Signs of a Writing Life

For years I have been disturbed by the fact that my students didn’t love, in fact didn’t even like writing. Writing was hard, not fun.This was painful. Clearly I was doing something wrong.  I wanted writing to be something that could make a difference for them; could give them voice. But they weren’t seeing it that way.

So I got them blogging.

It helped a little. But I still didn’t see them jump for writing like they did for reading.

So this year I decided to give students dedicated time everyday to write what they wanted outside of workshop time. I hoped this would help them create a bigger space for their writing lives.

It worked for some. Most needed a push, a reminder, a quick tip, a mini mini lesson, a bit of inspiration to keep going. They needed to be taught to be independent writers.

Time and choice wasn’t enough. The workshop time taught them how to write in workshop, but outside of it they were rather lost.

I added in lessons to teach towards that independent writing life I was imagining for my students and myself: some thematic ones like One Little Word work; gathering ideas; craft lessons dropped in here and there; access to the iPads for blogging and google doc creation. And I wrote beside them in various ways.

Documents and posts started to appear. They were far from perfect but they were growing in number. It was writing. Their writing. Writing they had taken through their process and published on their own. It seemed like more. They jumped for the iPads. But was it for the technology or was it for writing.

So this week, I asked — What is good about writing?

I like how it comes together at the end.

I thought I knew something, but after writing it I knew so much more.

 I like writing about myself. I think I should write a book.

It helps me express my emotions.

Telling stories I want to read.

It makes me feel free. .

Writing stories in my journal.

Getting to write what I want to write.

Showing my accomplishments.

Going back and making it better.

Getting lots of comments! .

Getting it done.

I asked: What are the struggles?

Knowing what to write.

Sometimes there are no words..

I want to share, but I don’t know how.


Getting started.

Getting stuck.


Is it writing love? Maybe not yet.

Do they like writing more than the beginning of the year?  I’m going to boldly say yes.

Is there more I can do? Absolutely.

I need to wear the love of writing as I have for reading, to quote Lucy Calkins, “on my sleeve.” It needs to be bigger. I need to really write before their eyes. And fail. And try again. They need a real live model. I really haven’t done this enough. There are moments but it isn’t enough.

To be honest, I’ve been that model as a reader. Reading with them. Discovering and loving books with them.

Writing needs to be apparent and heartfelt:  a shared place and space we love and grow together.

This week I celebrate my student writers and our growing writing lives. We have a way to go, but i think I’ve found a possible pathway.

celebrate link up

Happy Saturday. Enjoy more celebrations on Ruth Ayers’ blog here.





Celebrate: How Language is Our Doing

Time to Celebrate the Week with Ruth Ayers. Thank you Ruth for this weekly space. It centers me around what is and was good; pulls me towards the growth of good; pushes me to capitalize on strength. Find more celebration posts here.

celebrate link up

One: An email from our son. Love his words.

Greetings from Morocco!

Just kidding. Hello from San Sebastian! The water is incredibly clear here, the beaches beautiful, the Basque countryside a natural wonder, the tapas a culinary adventure. . There’s always something just over the horizon, ready to unveil itself. I also bought The Great Gatsby in Paris and fell back in love with the story and the writing. I’ve already read it twice, going on a third.

Two:  A wonderful dinner with Elsie (aka Leann Carpenter). Lovely Leann who so graciously invited me to meet her for dinner and then waited too long for me to get through Los Angeles traffic. It was a beautiful California summer night as you can see.  It’s so fun to meet a fellow blogger in the flesh. We know so much about each other based on written words. To be able to hear those words and share a meal is a such a treat.  Wonderful to be with you Leann, I owe you one!

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Three: Brown Girl Dreaming showed up on my doorstep. I ordered it in June, after I heard Jacqueline Woodson speak at TCRWP’s Summer Reading Institute and it does not disappoint. It is quite simply, beautiful. Each chapter is a masterpiece that can stand on its own. I am half way through, the pages fly by, and I keep circling back to savor certain parts.

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Below are a few excerpts that  hit me; made me think of  my current students and of the many students who have read and struggled to read in my classroom.

Woodson is a born storyteller and her love affair with words is clear, but reading words was a struggle as a child. Living in the academic shadow of her gifted older sister, this passage from “Gifted” pulls at my heart.

She is gifted

we are told.

And I imagine presents surrounding her.

I am not gifted. When I read, the words twist

twirl across the page.

When they settle it’s too late.

The class has moved on

I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them

then blow gently,

watch them float

right out of my hands.

Reading is such an amazing and personal process.  Those who “get it,” like Jacqueline’s sister, seem to have a magical gift that is elusive for those who come to reading in a different way and on a different time table. Such a reminder to honor and wait for readers like Jacqueline; making sure we don’t leave them behind.

And this excerpt from “Believing”  reminds me to understand and give some room for writers whose personal narratives seems a little less than true.

It’s hard to understand

the way my brain works–so different

from everybody around me.

How each story

I’m told becomes a thing

that happens,

in some other way

to me….!

This from “Composition Notebook” made the composition notebook buyer in me smile and reminds me to look for those gifts in my students I “can’t begin to understand.”

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Four: Students writing whatever they want for 15 minutes every morning. Friday, I walked around the classroom surveying what they were writing about. I found:

  • four in the moment observing the goings on in the classroom.
  • one was a stream of thought,
  • one all about what he was good at,
  • three continued their work from the day before,
  • one fairy tale,
  • one informational writing on rubber (yes, rubber),
  • one was a reflection on lying,
  • nine personal narratives,
  • one all about dogs,
  • two I don’t know what to write/have much to say writing,
  • one writing about “Brave” by Sara Bareilles,
  • one wondering about what would happen today.
  • two theme park narratives,
  • two what I’m going to do this weekend

I want to celebrate the diversity of writing. The choices that were made freely and without prompting. The fact that some didn’t know what to write, but wrote anyway. I want to celebrate the beginnings of a writerly life.

Five:  Finally, a link to the most recent On Being  blog and podcast that features Marie Howe, the state poet of New York. I listened to the podcast today and find her and her views of our world stunningly down to earth and necessary.  One big aha was how “doing” in our current world is  dominated by language, and hence the importance and power in it. Click on the link above and enjoy her poetry, storytelling and thinking on language, happiness, being present, and family,

Happy long weekend to you all.


#Nerdlution Meets Reality….

nerdlution-button-tiny-01-1Today’s mission was to write about reading.

In the spirit of trying to put myself in the shoes of my students, I am looking to read some non fiction closely. I look through my bookshelf. Pull out a few books on my “in the process” of reading pile. But in the back of my mind is the suggestion I got in the #tcrwp chat: Colleen Cruz’s Independent Writers.  I’ve read this book, several times but the train of thought created by that chat wouldn’t allow me to go elsewhere.

I start at the beginning. And I do remember this, yet it is good again.

What I realize as a reader of non fiction:

  • To be engaged, choice is necessary.
  • Good narrative writing makes good non fiction writing..
  • The necessity of reader/writer connections.  I see myself in this text, and I am immediately pulled in.
  • To get someone to read your work, you better make sure they connect to you or your ideas. So much for the four corners of the page.

A few other things that resonated with me about writing:

  • The need for all units of study to have an element of independence.
  • Students need to have a “memory of writing success.”
  • Frequent reflections on work is necessary.
  • A community of support needs to be established well beyond the teacher.
  • If students are allowed to follow their passions in writing they will crave it.

While this was written before (2004) our current technology and Common Core Standards, its timeless points are well worth the read. In many ways independence is encouraged in my classroom, but the idea of independent writing outside the units of study has always seemed impossible.

As I consider my work this year:

  • Blogging requires (almost creates) the development of community, purpose and audience.
  • Our current Genius Hour time, which has reached well outside the realm of writing could become a home for independent writing projects.

All food for thought as I read on.

So did I read closely?