Do You Write with Your Students? | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

"Books will soon be obsolete in the schools. Our school system will be completely changed in 10 years." -- Thomas Edison, 1913

Sound familiar? Ninety-nine years later, we are hearing this nearly verbatim today. Educational technology is a wonderful addition to learning, and to our world, but it does not and will not replace the process of learning or the planning of teaching.

Technology will also never replace the need to be literate. Students will always need to be able to read and write. And it's essential that they are able to do both incredibly well.

How do we prepare our students for the critical literacy skills required in today's world? Although there's so much to say about this matter, there's one key aspect of it that's been close to my heart since I attended a National Writing Project workshop more than a dozen years ago:

To help our students become writers, we need to write side by side with them.

In our classrooms, as students are scratching away with their pencils brainstorming ideas, drafting on the computer, thumbing through a thesaurus, or reading a section of their essay aloud to a classmate, we need to be willing to do the same. We need to be willing to participate in writer's workshop with the children we teach. This sends an invaluable message to the young writers in the room. It says this:

I struggle too. I get tongue-tied and run out of things to say. I repeat myself and I forget words that I know I've used in the past. I sometimes change my mind halfway through a page, or even two, and want to start over with a new topic. Writing isn't always so easy!

Let's face it, for most children and many adults, writing can make us feel vulnerable (does this make sense? will people understand? I'm not sure I spelled that correctly?) When we write with our students and share with them our uncertainties about word-choice, a topic, or organization, won't they be much more willing to do the same?

Here's a couple of instances where I shared with my eleventh-grade students during writer's workshop:

  • Mistakenly, I received an automated ticket in the mail for driving in the carpool lane without a passenger. The ticket was an error (since I'd been teaching at the time of the incident). I wrote a letter to the traffic court. The students advised me that my tone was too harsh (I was angry!) I revised.
  • A poem I had written years before about my mother. Since it hadn't been titled, I never felt it was finished, only abandoned. They suggested numerous titles and then voted as a class on the most fitting.

Reading with students is just as important. The message this sends? I like to read. I don't just tell you this and grade you on how much you read, I read side by side with you. You see my facial expressions as I struggle to understand something difficult and you see when I feel emotion at a sad or funny part. I am a reader, too.

When we model for students our love -- and struggles -- as readers and writers, they will follow. The more our students fall in love with writing and reading, the more of it they will do. And as we know, practice can make us better at just about anything.


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Lisa Nielsen's picture

A teacher's job is to support and inspire students. They can discuss what they read and show models of what they write. Using that as mentor texts is great. However, teachers shouldn't be off reading and writing while they are being paid to support and inspire students. They should be spending their time figuring out what their students love and helping them find more information about that thing. They should also help them connect and create (this may not be writing) for authentic audiences. Finally, and what is perhaps most important, is this. Many young people don't want to read and write about doing stuff. They want to escape the walls of the classroom and actually do stuff. A great teacher helps them with this.

Bruce Greene's picture
Bruce Greene
Teacher/Mentor/Field Supervisor Portland, Oregon

Thanks for putting these ideas in writing. In my work now with beginning teachers I often tell them to do their own writing assignments. I've been writing with my classes for years. If I do a teacher workshop, I write with those groups. Aside from serving as a good model, I've found that a teacher involved with the writing process in his/her own classroom keeps students engaged far longer. It's a great example of what a classroom community looks like.

J. Schaeffer's picture
J. Schaeffer
Seventh grade English teacher-- Las Vegas, NV

It is so important for us to show the students that we relate to them on some level, and show them that we are completing tasks as they are. I too am currently working on my master's degree (as some here have also said), and I often tell my students that I have homework to complete that night too! In regards to reading and writing with them, I agree with what you said whole-heartedly! When reading a novel, and I discuss my emotions towards the story, it creates such a beautiful dialogue with the students, because they feel free to share as well. If I spell something wrong on an assignment, or miss an error on the board, the students openly correct me. I have encouraged them to (politely) tell me, thereby showing them we all make mistakes, and it's acceptable in this environment! I absolutely love this posting and plan on sharing it with my department! Thank you so very much!

Kristin Washington's picture
Kristin Washington
Elementary teacher from Temecula, CA

I always knew that modeling for our students was a key element in teaching, but actually doing activities with our students is taking it one step further. I do realize that there are times when you shouldn't ignore your students in order to do what they are doing, like reading a book while they are reading. I do think it is a great idea to actually bring in writing that is relevant to my life and show my students that I write too. I love the idea of not writing a story just to have something to model for my students, but writing something that is meaningful and relevant to me. That way I can show my students that I am more involved and they will be more likely to follow my lead.

Kathleen's picture
first grade teacher

I thoroughly enjoyed your blog post! As a first grade teacher, your topic sparked my attention! The topic that we discussed at my district's professional development session this Monday was writing workshop. Many teachers shared that they do not remember learning and participating in writers workshop until the fifth grade. Within our district, our students are introduced to writers workshop as young as kindergarten! We discussed that is extremely demanding of our young students. However, we proceeded to explore the demographics of today's culture. So many of our kindergarteners and first graders own Kindles and use a computer at home. Students in today's culture are growing up with technology. They will never know a world without it! Therefore, the emphasis to encourage reading and writing at a young age is crucial. The students cannot use the keyboard as a crutch. They must know how to write. After this discussion, it was emphasized that even though many of us did not experience writers workshop until the later elementary years, it is okay for students with today's ever changing demographics to participate in writer's workshop. Writing evolves overtime and teachers must change with it in order to understand the way students learn today. Thank you for your thoughts and ideas for writers workshop! As a teacher and an English major, I can share your appreciation for reading. There is something to be said about the power of a positive attitude: It's infectious. If you show your love for reading, then maybe your students will adopt that same passion!

Emilie "Mikki" Uyehara's picture
Emilie "Mikki" Uyehara
Multi-Cultural Curriculum Developer Hawaii K-12

Group writing is so much fun. Hawaii is a multicultural environment and every culture has its stories. Introducing legends of various cultures and having the students give their own spin is a great way to involve students in the writing process. Take a place in time and picture yourself there, what if you had a time machine and met up with your grandmother before she met your grandfather. Back to the future Hawaiian style. Ancestors, a story about multicultural marriage between a Chinese and a Hawaiian, the spirits of the ancestors on both sides discussing the situation, and how the birth of the child of the couple leads to a loving resolution to the problem. When we involve the students in creating their own story with symbolism they are familiar with, the exercise ceases to become a chore and turns to one of pleasure and good humor.

Emilie "Mikki" Uyehara's picture
Emilie "Mikki" Uyehara
Multi-Cultural Curriculum Developer Hawaii K-12

Local celebrities love to display for our youth. Inviting them into the classroom and having our young people comment is a great way to get them to open up. Creating scenarios in the classroom with local newscasters, journalist, business people. ( I do an our lives segment , age appropriate, where the students interact with the class visitors)etc., involves the community in the learning process and makes them a lot more amenable to contributing to the education system when it comes time to vote funding. Have an age appropriate exercise where the class is divided into two political groups and have them run for president. What are the issues, what do they consider important, and what would they do if they were President of the United States. Hawaii is small, so we can request that the Mayor of Honolulu pay a visit our classroom, and they will actually show up. Use your social networking resources in the community and have them contribute their knowledge to enhance the learning and living experience.

notyourparent's picture
High school teacher - Australia

It's so funny I should log in to find this post!
Today I had a bit of a revelation in class. I had no emails to send, no extra work to do, so I decided to sit down and complete the creative writing task I had just set my students at the same time as them!
It was fabulous! For a whole lesson I was able to step into their shoes, witness the difficulties they might face, and come to understand more about what they got out of my lesson.
Writing WITH students is so, so, so valuable!

Mike - Not Your Parent

Emilie "Mikki" Uyehara's picture
Emilie "Mikki" Uyehara
Multi-Cultural Curriculum Developer Hawaii K-12

HPR , Hawaii Public Radio, has a program sponsored by Bamboo Press (A local Publishing House), called "Aloha Shorts. " These are local stories by local writers, read by local talent. They are funny, sad, inspiring,and regardless of the subject matter, they are always thought provoking. These stories generate intense dialogue among the students. If your local public radio station has a storytime, ask them to donate some of the programs to the school to be utilized in the classroom, another way is to record the program and play it back in the classroom.
We also have the grandparents, immigrant parents, and others from their cultural communities to come into the classroom and share their stories. This works great with at risk students and empowers parents to become more involved in their child's education. Sometime the last one to know the story of parent is the child themselves. It is an eye opener and a great sharing exercise. We recommend that all teachers watch such shows as Freedom Writers, Stand and Deliver, among others. There are a lot of great tools in those movies that show how to have a successful interactive classroom.

Lisa Maylee's picture
Lisa Maylee
I'm very interested in how motivation and communication effect education.

A great example of how modeling effort helps children. This reminds me of the blog, Notebooks, where teachers and poets share their notebooks with all of the sloppy writing process for students see. I also like that Rebecca stresses the importance of face to face interaction of children with teachers. Social interactions with eye contact and recognition of body language are an important part of learning and communication.


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