Promising practices that can help nurture confident, capable student writers.
The beginning of the school year is a powerful time for setting intentions and establishing expectations. As a former classroom teacher and professional development coach, I understand the importance of making sure students feel safe in their writing environment, so that they feel empowered to put pen to paper. Using the beginning of the year to create a culture of writing can help cultivate a sense of community, boost students’ confidence, dispel some of the myths that exist about writing, and strengthen students’ skills and strategies.
How then, can we create this culture and community?
Creating the environment
As Dan Kirby writes in Inside Out: Strategies for Teaching Writing, “…there should be some obvious indications that you believe that the physical environment is important, and these touches need to be present even in a rather sterile classroom setting…the fact that you’ve done something to your room is a signal to students that you care about the writing environment.”
Teachers should create a space where they want to be, as chances are that the students will feel comfortable, too.
Teachers can use questions such as:
By asking and answering these questions, it can inform and inspire the ways in which you design your classroom, as well as what materials or resources you might need or want. Perhaps you want to have a writing corner, or a gallery space for finished pieces. Think about all the spaces in the room — whether it’s a specific bulletin board, the walls, the ceiling, outside the classroom — where and how will writing be honored and celebrated?
When it came to my environment, I recognized the importance of a quiet, comfortable space for students to write. I wanted to have inviting spaces around the room where students could choose to sit, whether it was on the carpet, with a pillow, a large bean bag, or in a comfortable chair near a window. In addition, I would turn off the lights when we wrote and play soft, classical music. This routine, over time, helped signal to students that it was time to write. It set the expectations that when we write, it's quiet and calm. You might be thinking that this can or should only happen in an elementary classroom; however, I have seen it used in middle and high school classrooms, and it was very well received by the students.
I also had a writing center in my room, where students could go to gather paper, pencils, highlighters, and post-its to use for their writing. There was a basket for them to drop writing that they wanted or needed me to read. This empowered students to take ownership of their writing and build their independence as writers by providing them with common resources and tools they could access on their own, as needed.
Establishing rituals & routines
The second promising practice for creating a writing culture is to consider meaningful rituals and routines that value and encourage writing. Rituals and routines involve necessary actions that create purpose and organization, and when done frequently, they become innate. Below are some of my favorite rituals and routines.
I encourage you to start the process of creating a culture or writing by identifying what you are most passionate about, what you are most excited about, and use that information to inspire the ways in which you create your space and establish your rituals and routines. If you have a passion for writing, like me, and/or you are a writing/ELA teacher, then I invite you to use the promising practices shared above, as they were very helpful for me and for the advancement of my students as writers!