Vital Conversations In the Writing Classroom

Some years back, I found myself talking to a group of enthusiastic grade one writers who were keen to commence their writing pieces. As they stood up from the carpet to return to their seats, I realized that the spark of imagination that would fire my own writing ideas, had suddenly snuffed out. The students all seemed fired up and ready to create the miracle of meaningful marks on paper. I felt completely blank and could not conjure up a single thing to write about. I was trying to will my brain into action. Writer’s block had descended upon me like a damp, foggy mist. An unexpected intrusion on my normal rich inner world of ideas.

A boy stood beside me at this critical juncture and casually announced, 'I’m going to write about the first time I went fishing on Saturday with my Dad.'
'Oh thank you,' I said with a huge sigh of relief.

The bemused child looked at me unsure as to what he had actually done.
'You have just given me a wonderful idea for my writing this morni…

Jottings From A Writing Life

The following random writing thoughts are gleaned from various sources connected to my writing life- my notebooks, blogs, Twitter, Facebook. They represent some of my recent writing related activity in these places. I share them to demonstrate the broad and enduring influences upon those of us who choose to be, teachers who write: _______________________________________
When young writers doubt their abilities they often set low goals, choose easy tasks and conduct little or no planning. When they hold strong beliefs in their own capacity to write, they generally engage more readily, focus their attention and choose to engage. This is why developing a sense of agency within student writers is so important. We must champion independence and a sense of belonging to achieve this important goal. It is central to performance.

Teachers don't just teach student learners skills. The word choices teachers make determine the health of that learning community. When teachers create safe classroo…

Helping Young Writers Find Treasure

I am a frequent gatherer of words I wish I had written. Words from fellow writers, both inspiring and thought provoking. It is important for student writers to view this type of gathering as legitimate activity for them to pursue. My notebooks regularly reflect this passion for gathering word treasure. 

When sharing my harvest of notebook entries, I frequently say things like:
'I love that line, let me tell you why.'
'Listen to the sounds of that magical sentence. Can you hear it too?'
'What great description of the setting. I can see that so clearly in my mind.'

Emotional response to the writing of others is important to acknowledge within yourself, as a reader. It is also important to share these responses with less experienced readers and writers. When we are moved or provoked, by the words on the page, the writer has done their job.

As writers, and teachers of writing, we need to develop a close relationship with those authors we admire. We need to get close to t…

Teaching Young Writers To Closely Observe Their World

One morning I followed the lead of Keri Smith in her book, ‘How to be an Explorer of the World’ and set out for a morning walk with the words ‘Everything is interesting, look closer’ singing in my ears. My walking project was to take photos only of things found on the ground. Using my Iphone I walked my usual route, pausing to snap items that caught my eye. 

Since the age of about ten I have loved the wonder of photography. As a teacher and a writer, this love of the photographic image has been a positive influence. I believe it has aided my eye as a writer. Small detail is important. You train your writing eye to do exactly what your photographic eye must do. What a camera captures can also be captured inside your head.

As teachers of writing we need to be collectors. We must observe, collect and analyse. This documentation of specific elements of our world, our culture, through varied forms of research, forms a large part of our life-source as writers.

I also collect to enable me to re…

The Wonder of Wordplay

I recently had the pleasure of conducting a workshop on Wordplay and its important role in growing writers. Here are some of the messages I was able to share with participants. Trust they add to your thinking around the teaching of writing...

Wordplay is such an omnipotent thing. It is unavoidable. Conversation, songs, TV shows advertisements, literature , greeting cards, brochures magazines and newspapers all employ word play abundantly. Everywhere we go, it leaps out at us.

In many schools however the study of words, has over time, been shrunken down to mean little more than reading and vocabulary knowledge. And yet, I still recall my teachers encouraging me to play with malapropisms, oxymorons, listen for tautology and wonder at the mystery of invented words in Lewis Carroll's poem 'Jabberwocky.' I recall the fun we had creating rhyming couplets and discovering palindromic words. At home, my father regularly engaged me in wordplay and riddles. There were also a fair smatt…

Growing Into Writing

I love to write. I need to write. For me it is a siren voice within. It calls me back if I stay away for too long. I try to write something every day, but it is not always possible. I write most days even if its just a few lines. Other days I write for more extensive periods. The easy flow of words brings an inner rush of contentment.

I keep my writer's notebook close by -always. It travels with me when I leave the house. It is a travelling companion. Wherever I go in this world, it goes with me.  My notebook is my collection zone. A place where I trap and collect potential writing ideas. Ralph Fletcher once wrote that keeping a notebook enables the writer to drag a huge net through their life in order to gather rich details. My notebook therefore contains many ideas. Initial drafts, lists, experiments, quotes, words heard, tentative and fragile beginnings.

I also write on a computer situated in my study. I am surrounded by my favourite books. The support of my fellow writers is clo…

Writers Make Decisions

Nothing influences a child’s attitude to writing more than the choice of topic. If the child is given control over topic choice and if the teacher displays genuine interest in that choice, then there’s usually no limit to the effort the young writer will make. Young writers who are given this power soon develop confidence in choosing appropriate topics for their writing. They are engaged in thinking and preparing for the writing that follows. This represents the foundations of writer agency. It is a demonstrable act of confidence in the child's capacity to think, decide and act as a writer.

Sometimes I hear teachers say, ‘They’re (student writers) not good at choosing something to write about.' 
The logical starting point is, ‘How do we assist  inexperienced writers to develop this aspect of their writing?

Actively teaching student writers how to make good choices, showing them how to identify a suitable focus for their writing, choosing the right genre/s and harvesting ideas are…