You may remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs from your teacher training. This hierarchy, shaped like a pyramid, reminds us that humans must have certain needs met before they can actualize others.
At the base of the pyramid are the basic, life-giving needs: food, shelter, water, etc., followed by safety and community. Without these things, other growth needs cannot be met: self-actualization, confidence, creativity and so on.
It is important to remember how this hierarchy plays out in our writing classrooms.
If we want our students to grow as writers, they must first feel a sense of safety in expressing and sharing their ideas in writing and with each other in the feedback process. That feeling of safety will lead to the establishment of a writing community which will lead to thriving writers.
But can we create a safe space for writing in our classroom?
Teach students how to respond to each other as writers. Often times, our students do not have the language they need to appropriately respond to each other's writing. Without this language, peer feedback is often times useless. Model appropriate feedback and provide sentence starters if necessary. Give students a map to get them started until appropriate responses become natural.
Be an active member of your classroom writing community. When teachers write with their students, share their writing, and ask students for feedback, they are modeling the vulnerability that all writers experience. Your students will see what you're doing and follow suit.
Put away your red pen. Sit and talk with your students about their writing. Set goals. As Lucy Calkins says, "Focus on the writer, not the writing." Pointing out every error with a giant red circle is not going to encourage anyone to take chances with their writing.
Share. End every writing session with a few minutes of share time. Students don't need to read their entire piece, but could share their favorite sentence. Don't have time to let everyone share? Students can turn-and-talk to a neighbor or share with a study buddy. Don't forget to be a part of the share time too by sharing something you wrote!
The beginning of the year is the most natural time to begin this work of creating a safe space for writers, but any time is a good time to begin.
How do you create a safe space for your student writers? Please leave a comment below and let us know.
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