I have never taught a group of students that didn’t love to tell stories. Tales of their birthdays, weekends, previous classrooms, and random adventures fill our classroom from the first day to the last. At the same time, many of these student story tellers are often reluctant writers. The first day of school, my fifth graders gather on the carpet for our first writer’s workshop and I ask, “How many of you are writers?” A small group of student hands go up. I tell students that I will offer them a space to nurture the writer within, to recognize choices they make as they construct a text, and to understand the power of re-vision. Ultimately though, my goal is to have many more of those little hands go up when I ask where the writers in this group are.
My pursuit of increased self-efficacy in my 5th graders begins with the mini lesson, specifically the connections portion. In the opening weeks of school I share a lot of my own experiences, connect to my life as a writer, and share my thoughts as I revise a piece of writing. In this phase my main goal is to model how exciting and interesting it can be to craft a text.
In the 2nd phase, I want to show students that interesting and well developed writing can come from a 5th grader, not just an adult or a published writer. I begin the lesson by sharing writing I have collected from students in prior years. These writers are often siblings, cousins, or friends of current students. It always amazes me how much more attention I get when I begin a lesson with something like, “Last year when we were writing narratives, my student (whose name would be here) really chose good places to show not tell her emotions.” Students eyes will brighten and the chimes of, “I remember her” or “That’s my cousin” begin the carpet buzz. I want them talk about the skills these young writer’s demonstrate and the deliberate choices they made. I want these models to entice more students to take the risk of trying something new in their writing.
After students have had enough opportunities to generate draft writing, I begin my search for models in the classroom. From this point on I am looking in the students writing for examples of skills we need to develop or recognize as part of a writer’s toolkit. In preparation for the lesson, I ask an unsuspecting writer if I can use their piece as the example in the day’s mini lesson. From this point on, the connection portion of the mini lesson will highlight one or two students who have demonstrated a specific skill.
All it takes is one time to put a student on display and the other writers begin trying new skills by practicing in the form of their colleague or taking the risk of trying something new. They begin looking forward to hearing which friend they will be learning from that day. Students begin to recognize that they write great openings, develop great characters, and maybe even have a knack for making the reader laugh. We become a community of writers learning from one another.