Children’s Bill of ‘Writes’/Rights
As a way to synthesize our learning together during the fall semester, we considered what ‘rights’ children should have as writers in our classrooms and schools. Each teacher/graduate student identified five specific rights/“writes,” citing course readings and classroom experiences to support her choices. After reading through the lists, I (the professor) worked to identify common themes across the lists, compiling this edited version as a way to collectively affirm what we believe , what we understand, and what we are committed to offering the writers in our preK-12 classrooms.
Bill of ‘Writes’/Rights
Children have the right to be motivated to become the readers, writers, and storytellers they were born to be. Everyone born with the ability to think for himself/herself is born to be a writer. Some of us may never publish a piece in a library, but we are writers nonetheless. It is our job as teachers to find the writer in each of our students and reveal it to them through motivating and empowering them along the writing process. The writing process that will facilitate the most learning for our students is one that takes place in a variety of settings, utilizes a variety of instructional practices, and encompasses a variety of learning experiences. As we begin to bring these learning experiences to children, it is important they have the opportunity to experience reading and writing together. We as teachers know the importance of both reading and writing, but the reality is that these often end up being two totally separate parts of that school day. We must work to teach them together cohesively. As children read or are read to, they are learning a sense of book language. They are learning how written text differs from oral language or conversational speech, and they are also learning how to turn their spoken words into written words that flow on paper. “Reading and writing are linked through their functional use. Children are learning to write like readers and to read like writers. Reading and writing are different–but complimentary–processes. In both reading and writing instruction, we teach children how to process continuous text” (McCarrier, Pinnell, & Fountas, 2000, p. 16). The motivation to become a great writer thus comes from instruction that brings together writing and reading. As children learn to think like both readers and writers they begin to combine the knowledge into their writing and create pieces of writing about which they feel pride and confidence. [Brandi Reedy, 2016]
Children have the right to an environment that is conducive to bringing out the best writer possible in each of them. In an effort to facilitate good writing in our students, it is important that they be supported within the writing environment. We can achieve this through many different approaches to learning as well as structures embedded in the writing workshop, but ultimately, creating a safe environment starts by giving children choice in what they write and encouraging them to take as writers. Heard (1999) refers to setting up a writing environment that is emotionally stable for all students. She writes that “a classroom environment can send out messages; that all of our students’ lives matter; that every voice is worth listening to; and that students can take risks in writing… about whatever their hearts urge them to write” (Heard, 1999, p. 3). This type of writing environment encourages children on all developmental levels. Writing can be a scary thought for students, and many learn from an early age that you don’t want to be “wrong” in school. Teachers must work to create an environment where all students feel valued in their writing—a place where writing is not seen as right or wrong but as a vision of sharing thoughts, personal stories, ideas, and information as part of a community. [Brandi Reedy & Jackie Bryan, 2016]
Children have the right to time scheduled each day for writing and a place to keep their writing. To become better at anything, you must spend time immersed in the activity. As Ray and Cleaveland (2004) argue, “First and foremost, the writing workshop is about making a time every day for children to get this experience with writing that we so value, much as we plan for children to have meaningful encounters with books each day” (p. 24). It is important to remember during an hour-long writer’s workshop, the majority of the time is spent on children actually having time to write—selecting topics and genres that are of interest to them and making decisions as writers. Instead of children learning about writing, children are actually writing! In order for students to become comfortable and successful in writing, teachers must afford them ample opportunities to practice writing. “There is no such thing as too much writing if you are trying to develop yourself as a writer” (Ray & Cleaveland, 2004, p. 24). With predictable, consistent, and frequent times planned for students to engage in writing experiences, students will build stamina as they take ownership of their own writing process. [Penny Evans & Hannah Brady, 2016]
Children have the right to choose their own writing topics. Fletcher and Portalupi (2001) encourage liveliness in the classroom atmosphere during writing time. It can’t just be the teacher’s writing workshop. In the most fundamental sense, the writing workshop belongs to children. The teacher must allow children to “express themselves” by inviting children to write about what they know, what’s important to them, and what they care about most. Students of any age can create “heart maps” to help them identify the people, places, and things that mean the most to them (Heard, 1999). After students create heart maps, they have many choices of topics to write about. This process invites all children to be storytellers. Each child has lots of “material” to pull from in their mind and this shows each child that he/she has a wealth of topics to choose. The next step is to put thoughts down on paper. Children should have the right to choose topics for writing as well the right to be exposed to different genres of writing— including poetry. If we want our students to view themselves as writers, we must give them choices about their writing. Fletcher and Portalupi (2001) suggest giving students choices in every part of the writing cycle, even down to the type of paper children use for particular writing projects. [Jackie Bryan & Michelle Todd, 2016]
Children have the right to a starting place. Writing can feel daunting to students (and adults). Asking someone to write in a particular genre without much prior knowledge is scary and unfair. Mentor texts are a necessity for all writers, offering a springboard to understand the structure, conventions, and elements of a particular genre. Using mentor texts takes a lot of pressure off by allowing children to model their writing after an already published piece of writing—like a “scaffold” of sorts to get writers started (Dorfman & Cappelli, 2007). Teachers must fill their classroom libraries with multi-leveled texts of diverse genres so that students always have access to mentor texts on their level and their interest. Teachers should read many of these texts aloud so that students can develop interest in different topics, genres, and authors that they can use to inspire their own writing. In addition to traditional genres like personal narratives, informational texts, historical fiction, etc., children should also be exposed to diaries, letters, graphic novels, comics, newspaper articles, and of course poetry! Poetry is something that is not read aloud enough in preK-12 classrooms. When children are exposed to poetry, it is often found that “children love poetry, and they can be successful poets if they have a host of mentors, a useful scaffold, and a lot of practice” (Dorfman & Cappelli, 2007, p. 162). When teachers fill students’ ears with writing that sounds poetic, children are inspired to “write like that” during writing workshop. “When children read books and find sentences that make them want to reread them and linger there, they have probably found prose that sounds like poetry” (Dorfman & Cappelli, 2007, p. 162). Learning this skill of using mentor texts opens up new avenues for children to grow as readers and writers across all genres and discplines. [Hannah Brady & Kelly Luna, 2016]
Children have the right to engage in meaningful writing experiences outside of language arts/reading “time” and English classrooms. All too often the practice of writing is left to language arts or reading time in the elementary grades and English classrooms in secondary schools. This injustice is debilitating students’ writing abilities. Students certainly need to write in the English classroom, but they also must learn to write across the curricula. One way this may be accomplished is through poetry. When students integrate skills from language arts and science (or other content areas), they “demonstrate greater achievement in both content areas” (Frye, Bradbury, Gross, 2016, p. 436) among other beneficial growths and strengths. Students can use poetry in the content areas to exercise both their language arts skills as well as content area knowledge. Using “What am I?” poems, students explore characteristics of a topic or key terms they are learning about while practicing poetic language and structures. Acrostic poems are another way students may explore content area topics while integrating language arts. Students can very easily come up with facts about the topic and then put them into acrostic form by starting their word or phrase with each letter of the word being used. Closely studying and writing acrostic poems allows students to “enhance, transform, and bring ownership to their understanding of the content” (Frye, Thrathan, & Shlagal, 2010, p. 595). [Hannah Brady, 2016]
Children have the right to come back and revise writing in meaningful ways over time. Revision is one of the most important steps in the writing cycle for supporting the development of young writers. When a child revises, he/she has the opportunity to reread their writing and consider ways to make it more interesting and engaging for readers. Children must be given opportunities to revise their writing and, importantly, must be taught specific strategies for revising. This is done most successfully through intense teacher modeling and guided practice. Too often children and teachers think of revising and editing as the same things (e.g., correcting spelling and grammar). Teachers must show children ways of revising that encourages children to engage in the hard work of making their writing better. Importantly, students should not be expected to revise every single piece they write. Students must be given choice in what and how they revise, allowing each writer to grow in diverse and meaningful ways. When children have the right to revise, teachers are letting them create and recreate their writing. Children feel as if they are making decisions that significantly impact their writing. When a child writes something and a teacher goes through and edits and revises it for him/her, the child loses ownership in the piece and is potentially prevented from engaging in the hard work of considering how to make this piece better. In return, the child loses his/her confidence as a writer. Students have the right to revise because it is their writing and they deserve opportunities to learn strategies to revise it themselves (Fletcher & Portalupi, 2001)! [Shelly Warnick & Beth Dalton, 2016]
Children have the right to authentic feedback during the revision process. Children have the need and the expectancy to develop a sense of what makes their writing “right.” Comments such as, “This is good,” or “I like it,” or even “Good job!” are not helpful to growing strong writers. To be constructive, teachers’ comments should specify what is good or lacking in a piece of writing. However, teachers should refrain from marking all the ‘errors’ in a piece of writing to avoid making writing a painful experience for young, developing writers. By giving young writers one focused piece of advice at a time, instead of overwhelming them with everything that needs to be worked on, children can also reflect on what did work so that they can reproduce that strategy in their next piece of writing. These bits of advice should come in the conference stage or as mini-lessons with small groups of students who are working on the same skills or strategies. Students should then be given ample opportunities to try out a new strategy before it is assessed again. This allows the students to work collaboratively to sound out their ideas on others before attempting to use the new strategies. [Roxanne Edwards, 2016]
Children have the right to share their writing with authentic audiences. When students share their writing, a writing community is a created where children can get ideas for writing topics, strategies, and genres from their classmates. Students having conversations and learning from each other can be far more effective than a teacher talking about how things “should” be done. Sharing ideas about topics and listening to each other’s writing gives fledgling writers more ideas to add to their list of ideas for future writing. Sharing writing in the classroom involves a set of skills and strategies that must be taught and continuously modeled. Teachers need to coach students in how to give and receive response to each other’s writing (Fletcher & Portalupi, 2001). Students of all ages need to be taught speaking and listening skills that also happen to be objectives of the Common Core State Standards. Students who are sharing their writing must come prepared and be open to accepting ideas and feedback from their peers. One of the most difficult parts of the sharing process is listening. Students need to be taught to be careful listeners who pay close attention to what is being said and how it is being said. Students should make eye contact and maintain a respectful attitude toward the speaker/writer. To reinforce the idea that all students—not just the writer—should be getting writing ideas from the sharing experience, Mermelstein (2007) suggests asking the following question at the end of any sharing session: “Who got an idea today that you think you’ll use tomorrow?”. This question reflects the idea that all writers learn best in communities with other writers [Beth Dalton, 2016]
Children have the right to be taught skills to help them grow as writers. All students have the right to be explicitly taught—through a process of gradual release of responsibility—the processes, strategies, and skills necessary to become strong, confidence writers. McCarrier, Pinnell, and Fountas (2009) discuss four scaffolded approaches that help young children constructively learn how to write: 1) language experience approach, 2) shared writing, 3) interactive writing, and 4) independent writing. These instructional approaches allow even the youngest students to engage in the writing process from the very beginning. In the language experience approach, the teacher simply takes the ideas of students and writes exactly what they have said on the board, thus the teacher is modeling turning oral language into written language before the children’s eyes. “By writing for children, you free them to express meanings in oral language without having to concern themselves with the mechanics involved in written language” (McCarrier, Pinnell, & Fountas, 2000, p. 21). In interactive and shared writing, children take on more control as they work with the teacher to plan, compose, and revise writing collaboratively. As children move into independent writing, they are then in the driver seat and have control on where to go and what to do. Teachers in the younger grades are able to observe children across these instructional approaches as young writers learn how to move from orally expressing a single thought or idea, into writing multiple ideas and thoughts down on paper independently. [Michelle Todd & Brandi Reedy, 2016]
Children have the right to be heard. It is easy to give directions and commands. It is harder to listen to children and interact with them in their learning. However, students have the right to be heard and be listened to rather than simply talked at. Successful classrooms create an environment where students are held responsible for their education. In these classrooms, students and teachers have an equal role in the class with both sides being respectful and listening to each other. It is during the writing conference that the teacher must take a backseat and deeply listen to the student. As Fletcher & Portalupi (2001) point out, the teacher is required “to be responsive during a conference. And that starts with deep listening. Every signal we give to the students—to leaning forward, eyes alert—reinforces the fact that we have come to listen” (p. 49). Listening confirms to the student that what he/she has to say is important and his/her voice matters. Listening to a student is also important because the teacher needs to authentically react to the writing in the conference with a laugh, a look of surprise or one of sadness. Listening intently to what the student has written gives the teacher ideas as to what the student is trying to write/say and how to help move him/her forward as a writer. Children should be excited by the thought of working with the teacher not cringe at the thought of it. “It’s the way we listen, more than anything else, that will nudge our students to look at us with a smile instead of a frown when we kneel down next to them and ask, ‘How’s it going?’” (Anderson, 2000, p. 23). In addition to student teacher conferences, children can confer with each another. If the concept of each child’s voice being valued is a central part of the classroom culture and children have been taught how to give quality feedback, then students can be strong advocates in supporting each other’s growth as writers. [Kelly Luna & Penny Evans, 2016]
Anderson, C. (2000). How’s it going? A practical guide to conferring with student writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Dorfman, L. R., & Cappelli, R. (2007). Mentor texts: Teaching writing through children’s literature, K-6. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse.
Fletcher, R. & Portalupi, J. (2001). Writing workshop: The essential guide. K-8. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Frye, E. M., Bradbury, L., & Gross, L. A. (2015). Teaching students to compose informational poetic riddles to further scientific understanding. The Reading Teacher, 69(4), 435-445.
Frye, E. M., Trathen, W., & Schlagal, B. (2010). Extending acrostic poetry into content learning: A scaffolding framework. The Reading Teacher, 63(7), 591-595.
Heard, G. (1999). Awakening the heart: Exploring poetry in elementary and middle school. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Heard, G. (2002). The revision toolbox: Teaching techniques that work. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
McCarrier, A., Pinnell, G. S., & Fountas, I. C. (2000). Interactive writing: How langauge & litearcy come together, k-2. Portsmouth, NH. Heinemann
Mermelstein, L. (2007). Don’t forget to share: The crucial last step in the writing workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Ray, K. W., & Cleaveland, L. B. (2004). About the authors: Writing workshop with our youngest writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.