Community: The Key to Unpacking Writing Baggage
Before we begin, think back on your own writing history.
Are your memories of writing in your younger years happy ones? Did positive experiences form the foundation of the writer you’ve become today?
Or, are those memories ones that you would rather forget? Did you learn about the power of the red pen from the writing that was returned to you with every mistake circled, every flaw pointed out?
Like it or not, we all carry baggage around with us from our own past in regards to writing.
Sometimes that baggage is light and easy to move. Other times, it is not.
How about your students?
What kind of writing baggage are they carrying around?
This year, how will you help them unpack that writing baggage so they can enjoy their stay while in your classroom?
Creating a Writing Community
One of the best ways to help students unload their writing baggage is through the writing community you create in your classroom.
As writers, sharing our writing with others is hard. We may worry that our words and ideas (and we) will be rejected. We look around and feel we are not as good as other writers. We may still carry wounds of times that our words were treated badly by others.
The risk of any of these things happening again is often so great that it’s easier to come up with excuses and poor attempts at writing.
For writers to truly flourish, they must know that their writing classroom is a safe place to write, share, and receive feedback.
How can you build a safe, nurturing community of writers in your classroom?
Teach students how to give each other specific, supportive feedback. I like using the TAG Method. By teaching students how to give helpful, kind feedback, they are learning to support each other as writers so everyone can grow.
Celebrate risk-taking. If a young student is trying out some new vocabulary and spells a word wrong, don’t make a big deal out of it, but thank them for their attempt. If a student is writing in a new genre and they seem uneasy, celebrate their journey away from their comfort zone. Remember, mistakes can be proof that students are trying new things.
Be a participant in your community of writers. Let your students see you write. Ask them for feedback on your writing. Share your struggles and your celebrations. Don’t be surprised if your students look at you strangely when you do this, but I promise you, it is worth it.
Honor student voice and choice. For students to feel a part of a community, they must feel that their voice matters. This means offering students plenty of choices in their writing whenever possible and honoring what each student brings to the table. Not everyone will be an ace writer, but everyone can write to the best of their ability.
Taking positive steps to assure your student writers that they are a part of a larger writing community where each writer contributes to the success of the whole will help your student writers feel better about unpacking their writing baggage and staying awhile.
How do YOU build community in your writing classroom? Please leave a comment below and share!
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