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Why I Write: To Improve My 2nd Grade Teaching Practice

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Along with the National Writing Project, Figment, and The New York Times Learning Network, we are celebrating the National Day on Writing. As part of this celebration, we're inviting writers to share the why of writing in an essay, poem, or post. Please add your own thoughts in the comment section below, and/or follow the hashtag #whyiwrite on Twitter.

Working through the process to construct this piece, I struggled with my approach. Do I play it safe and highlight platforms to publish with purpose through digital mediums? Or do I share with a public audience my passion for being an advocate of creative writing?

As I began to focus in on the significance of writing and plan how I could contribute to the National Day on Writing's "Why I Write" Celebration, I found myself coming back to the words of George Orwell in his 1946 "Why I Write" essay:

"And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally."

A Second Grade Snapshot

In my second grade class, we've established a writer's workshop, where we gather four days a week to hone our craft as creative writers. During our fifty minute sessions, we begin with a brief teacher-directed mini-lesson. Then, the young authors work independently to apply the skill that was just demonstrated through the mini-lesson. As the writers are working, I am writing my own piece and conferring with our community of learners. Oftentimes, there will be a need for a mid-teaching interruption to either redirect, highlight student work, or clarify a concept. Because each writer is at a different stage (ability, level, process), I prepare my mini-lessons to introduce a specific craft that professional writers utilize. A quality mentor text often aids in supporting the lesson. Because the instruction via the mini-lesson is whole group, conferences with individual learners or small groups of students prove to be essential so that each child's needs are supported and developed.

I am inspired by the community of writers that we've established thus far within our first six weeks together. Throughout launching our writer's workshop, I have become so overjoyed by the ownership that young seven-year-old students are taking for their own drafts. My second graders even asked if they could take their clip boards out to recess!

My girls are naturally inspired; most are sharing small moments from sleep overs, vacations, or a painful time of a pet's passing. My boys are just as prolific. In fact, I have one inspired young author that asked if he could combine his small moments into a chapter book. This boy, Zach, is an avid view and reader of all things Star Wars. I love peaking into his personal window by listening to his writer's voice and getting lost in his small moments of family snuggled on the couch, tearing through the toy store bags, and the exciting light saber action moments fought between friends.

My class shows no fear when it's time to write. They come to workshop ready to work. They aren't stifled by an absence of ideas. My students write because they enjoy sharing their work, making connections with their friends, receiving feedback, and are allowed to write about what inspires them. Sometimes, the allotted time for workshop simply isn't enough; they all want to share. Are we very different?

Why I Write: To Share

I share my writing on my blog, along with many other sites I contribute to. I enjoy and invite feedback. My students do, too. Wonderful platforms such as Storybird, for elementary, and Inkpop, for secondary, allow for such sharing opportunities. My students understand what it means to publish and have a purpose. Together, we enjoy publishing for an authentic audience. Our digital world affords us this opportunity.

Why I Write: To Express

My question to readers: Think of the last great book you read. Now, I'd like you to think about if it was a book that was a response to another author's text or was it a book written in a creative manner? As writers ourselves, do we produce content that is 90 percent a response to our interpretation of another author's work? Or, rather, do we do our best work when, like Orwell, we are inspired by something we are passionate about? Why do you write? Why do you have your students write?

For me, it's simple . . . inspiration, learning, and creativity.

Why I Write: To Create

By nature, we are a population of doers. We love to touch and create. We aren't inspired to sit and robotically produce. At three, my son is glued by my side as I fill dog bowls, empty the dishwasher, and vacuum. He models my actions. At seven, my daughter begs to help pull weeds from our garden, pick out websites for my blog, and assist her dad with simple "handy-man chores." However, if I were ever to ask Riley, my daughter, to complete one of these tasks independently, the task would soon shift from being a shared activity to a dreadful chore. My students are the same. That is why I write alongside my writers each day in workshop.

I write to be creative, capture personal moments, share my thoughts, and to create tangible products that bloomed from abstract ideas.

I write because I am passionate about a topic. I write to share, express, and create.

I close with a question from someone who continues to shape my practice, Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

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Comments (4) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

Bravo, Erin! I especially love that fact that you "write alongside my writers each day in workshop." It's so important for our kids, in this case your students to see you model the writing process.
I'd been encouraging my 19 year old son to blog for about 2 years. He told me he really wasn't interested as he felt he had nothing to share. THAT of course was really not the case. He's creative with a brilliant mind for thinking and he writes very, very well. After observing me for more than 2 years as I've developed my blog, he finally started a Tumblr. Just in my modeling, with him quietly observing...a desire to write publicly was born!
Thanks for sharing your passion for #whyiwrite.

Lindsay's picture
First grade teacher

Hi Erin! I think it is wonderful how you bring your love for writing into the classroom. It is hard for some students to express themselves through writing, and it sounds like you do an outstanding job teaching your students aobut writing through your writer's workshop. I have never heard of storybird or inktop, but I am definitely going to look into them. Could you tell me what types of skills you cover in your mini lessons?

Charlotte Mizener's picture
Charlotte Mizener
Professor of Music Education from Lamar University, Beaumont, TX

I have recently joined a journaling group for faculty members at my university. The ideas of writing to share, express, & create underlie the purpose of the group. In addition, we are writing our learning journals to shape, expand, and develop our own teaching skills. As I write about experiences in my classes and conversations with individual students, I have come to examine more closely my teaching practices. I am starting to form ways to reach the students more effectively so they can be more successful in their learning endeavors. My grad school mentor always declared that "words on paper" was the best way to organize thoughts and increase productivity. It is wonderful that those 2nd graders are learning to think clearly and gain the full value of the experiences of their young lives. I hope they continue throughout their lives. I love the quote from Sir Francis Bacon: "Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man." (I can't resist adding, "or woman.")

Bala Krishnan's picture

There is a awfully necessary correlation between writing and language development. As students develop language skills, they usually develop listening skills 1st (lots of input they will understand), then speaking (they begin to formulate their ideas within the second language), then reading (they will perceive the sound/symbol correspondence of the new language and be of the words) and eventually writing (they have enough language to precise their own ideas in writing). ( I am working in and enjoyed lot)

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