Writing Cafes: Reaching Fragile Writers (Part 2)
After our success with the first classroom Writing Cafe, we decided to bring the experience to other classrooms.
One of the most poignant moments came after a cafe with a class of fragile writers, students who were reluctant to embrace writing and a writer's identity.
"Welcome to the Writing Cafe!"
A sign reading: “Come Join our Writing Cafe -- All you need is your writer’s notebook, a writing utensil, your imagination” greeted students at the door.
Students in Mrs. Reville’s 7th grade class looked at me curiously when I met them in the hallway and welcomed them to “Cafe Reville”.
Their interest piqued, they moved quietly into the room to discover that it was no longer their classroom, but had been transformed into a cafe.
Tables were covered with colorful tablecloths complete with place settings and tea light candles. The scene was set!
We explained to the students that their Writing Cafe visit would look like this:
They were to take their notebook and find a seat at a table
After exploring the writing inspiration (quotes, sensory objects, music, and heart maps) we had placed in the center of the table, they were to 'sample' it and try it out in their notebook
After 10 minutes, they would move on to the next 'course' or station
We put on soft music, the students settled in, and we started writing.
Embraced by All
Mrs. Reville and I wondered how her most fragile writers would engage in this writing experience. Would they find ideas that inspired them to write? Would they write for the entire period?
Our questions were answered as the period hummed along and all students embodied the identities of writers writing in a cafe. Soft music played and words flowed as these students wrote in silence.
“They really just dug in...they looked at the prompts and really went for it which allowed them to produce things that even surprised them,” Mrs. Reville described.
These students were so immersed in writing that the only sound in the room was soft jazz playing in the background and the scratch of pencils across the page.
Towards the end of the period, we asked students to reread their entries and find a sentence or word that they would feel comfortable sharing.
Having written at four stations, the students had completed a great volume of writing and every student had a celebration to share.
Some commented that they started an entry with one line of thinking and surprised themselves with where it ended up.
“They were personally inspired by their own excellence which is the greatest thing you can do when you are trying to get someone who is a reluctant reader or writer to buy in,” Mrs. Reville added.
The Lasting Effects of the Writing Cafe
Mrs. Reville has continued to see the positive effects of the Writing Cafe months later:
Students look back at their entries from the cafe and continue to revise and develop them
When given the option, students choose to write in their writer’s notebooks
Students are more motivated to write and feel confident as writers
The Cafe lifted the quality of student writing which has transferred to more traditional writing assignments
The Cafe created a sense of writing community within Mrs. Reville's classroom
Given the success of this first Writing Cafe, we were thrilled to hear that Mrs. Reville's students have requested another type of Writing Cafe in the near future.
It is clear that all of Mrs. Reville's writers -- even the fragile ones -- discovered the joy of writing and became members of a writing tribe!
Up Next: Because of the great success with Writing Cafes and our students, we wanted to see what would happen when we engaged our teachers in this experience too. In our next post, we will share how the Writing Cafe helped some of our teachers find their writing voice and embrace their own teacher-writer identity.
Shelley Fenton and Krista Senatore are teacher leaders and literacy consultants in New York. They co-founded Lit Coach Connection in 2018 to provide both local and online professional development in the area of literacy. Both Shelley and Krista are avid writers and have presented at state and national literacy conferences. You can find out more about Lit Coach Connection on their website and can connect with them on Twitter.
Other Posts in the Classroom Writing Cafe Series:
Growing Teacher-Writers with Writing Cafes (Part 3)