This year I have followed the work of Jennifer Graham-Wright who teaches sixth grade language arts at Walton Middle School. Jennifer is one of those rare educators who will plunge into making changes in practice with some immediacy if she sees the change as benefitting the young people she serves. This year, she changed learning spaces over the winter holidays, moving to an environment of caves, campfires, and watering holes that allowed children in her class to have multiple choices of where they wanted to sit, how they wanted to work together, and what they wanted to do to show their writing as they created final products.
Once I was invited to skype into class to talk about my own writing work and tell stories to the sixth graders since they were working on a storytelling unit. Another time, I borrowed a wonderful silent movie video to share in a keynote presentation with instructional technologists. I wanted educators to see a different perspective on what it means to write in a state where writing increasingly is defined as “to a prompt.” This movie without words tells that story better than I can on my own.
These children had a chance to chat with writers in their own right this year. They heard from Ira Socol that their stories are important and their voices have power. The fabulous Bud Hunt took the time to chat via Skype about the writing process with them. These children live-streamed their own stories told aloud to the world, posted their movies to their class blog, and shared their writing with real audiences in countless ways.
Here’s what I learned from Jen and her kids as I observed occasionally up close and personal, but also virtually. Kids need choices in their work. They need to understand that writing is not a prompt. Young writers with an authentic audience develop a sense of importance for their writing that takes them well beyond a grade or a score on some meaningless state test. Writing can take many forms and even creating a silent movie means you have to write and revise a script as well as edit the movie. Kids are proud of their work when they own and invest in the process of creating.
When young people get the chance to work on their writing in a class such as the one that Jen Graham-Wright creates, they build a writing passion worthy of a Steinbeck or Angelou. And, that’s worth a lot more than a standardized test score.
You can also follow @jengrahamwright on twitter. You can follow @irasocol and @budtheteacher on twitter as well.