Why Make Writing?
Experience has taught me that when many young writers sit down to confront flat, empty screens and pages nothing but trouble emerges. These are the writers who battle frustration and even defeat as they wade into procedures that often feel contrived using tools that are completely intangible.
Over time, these tensions perpetuate a sort of quiet trauma: children begin to believe that they can’t write, and then they stop trying. How many adults might be better able to advocate for themselves or for justice within their communities if experiences like these hadn’t disempowered them? Many children and adults will tell you that writing is quite literally out of their grasp. They can’t wrap their hands around it, and since this is how they learn best, writing remains beyond their reach.
Many writers need to move, and they need their writing to move as well. They need to write out of their seats and on their feet, spreading their ideas across whiteboards and tables, lifting pieces of them up with their hands, cutting them apart, randomizing them, and tacking them into new and completely unpredictable forms. These writers need access to diverse tools and resources– far more than paper, laptops, and iPads. They build their stories using blocks and boards. They blend plot lines using sticky notes and grids. It’s not enough for these writers to study mentor texts. They need to tear them apart–physically. They need to use their hands to play with other peoples’ writing, and they need to tinker with their own in order to become adept.
I’ve learned to listen when my students tell me that they can’t write and don’t want to. This used to be hard to hear when I was a young teacher and thought it was my job to convince them otherwise. Experience makes better listeners of us all, though. I used to think that I knew what writing was and how to teach it well, until I stopped teaching long enough to become a learner. I began by inviting my students to write whatever they wanted, using the tools that suited them best. Then, I started paying attention. Time and again, assessing my students’ behavior validated what every resistant writer has ever suggested: writing isn’t something that everyone can do, but it is something that most people can make, given the right conditions.
Making writing requires a certain kind of space, a certain kind of culture, just right tools, and a commitment to using our words to make a meaningful difference for others. It isn’t about abandoning writers’ workshop or evading required curricula. It’s about pursuing outcomes in ways that support writers who need to move, build, mix, tinker, blend, sculpt, shoot, smear, and tack their writing together. Physically.
Making writing is about challenging individuals to identify and use the materials and processes they need to in order to meet their goals and agreed upon learning targets. Making writing is about accessing the voices of those that we serve and listening hard. It’s about paying attention to how individuals write and responding to what we observe rather than allowing our expertise and assumptions to drive instruction.
Eight years ago, I wondered what would happen if I began inviting teachers and writers to think and plan and work and learn in these ways. So, I gave it a try, and I gathered a lot of information along the way. Here’s what I learned: when we make the right space, fill it with the right tools, and cultivate the right spirit and mindset, people make writing—including those who claim to hate it.
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