George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Do You Write with Your Students?

The power of writing with your students.

February 6, 2012
Image credit: iStockphoto

"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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