6 Things You and Your Students Need That Will Improve Writing


What pushes us to write? What supports do I need to ensure the writing process is enjoyable and effective, for myself and my students?

In my last post, I shared that I intended to offer more time for talking and learning from each other with the participants in my Inspiring Reluctant Writers series. After our most recent session, I definitely saw the benefits of honouring these 6 things to create the conditions that will improve writing.You may not find much new in my list, but I’ve come to realize that we as teachers need these things just as much as our students do.

1. Time to Talk

Providing teachers and students with time to talk builds community by making connections between people. As you get to know each other, trust time-to-talkpaves the way for more strategic and effective feedback. In fact, I’m more likely to accept your feedback in the future if I already have a relationship with you. Teachers at my session devoted most of the morning sharing their beliefs and practices around feedback and then made it concrete by reading each others’ writing. Of course, when you devote time to talk, you are also honouring time to listen. There’s a reciprocal benefit to these conversations when we are authentic and open to learning from each other. We need time to talk for different purposes across the writing process, to generate ideas, to clarify our thinking, to consider ways to improve.

2. Time to Read

text-excerpts-for-craft-movesTo be a good writer, read a lot…according to Neil Gaiman. Read like a writer, be on the hunt for great writing, even a sentence. Noticing what writers do expands our own toolkit, inspires us, introduces possibilities we might explore. In reading we can collect and record new words, new ways to construct sentences. Reading our colleagues’ writing (students and teachers) builds a community of writers who encourage and celebrate each other. I try to use excerpts from authentic texts and have teachers/students scour the writing for craft moves they notice and can borrow. These moves expand our descriptive writing toolkit and ultimately they become success criteria.

3.  Time to Play


Play around with the ideas, write off the page, push the boundaries, don’t censor your ideas at first. Just try it. Try other text structures, visual supports, tech applications.
Experimenting with multimodal formats and how visual elements impact and enhance writing is what I’d like to explore next. Having teachers write collaboratively has been a real eye-opener for me this year in terms of fun factor. Teachers have enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm of generating ideas and trying to write in collaboration with another writer’s voice.

Here’s a short video clip of two instructional coaches navigating the collaborative process. Notice the double sided white board – a terrific tool to capture writing quickly on a space visible to all.


4.  Value Your Stories

“Constructing…narrative also allows us to imagine ourselves as agents, even heroes, in our own life stories.” (Minds Made for Stories, Thomas Newkirk, 2014)  In our Inspiring Reluctant Writers sessions, we are focusing on personal narratives for almost all of our writing.  If there is one thing I can be assured that you know a lot about, it’s yourself. Leveraging your own background knowledge increases a writer’s confidence. Our personal stories express universal truths, the ‘so what’ of a story.  By sharing our stories, we reinforce relationships and bridge our differences.



5.  Take a Risk

Don’t let your fear of being judged stop you from sharing your writing. Inhibitions rob the rest of us of your story. Writing helps us work out questions and issues to clarify our thinking. The choices we make about what to write reveal who we are, what we value, what we want to remember, what weighs on our heart. And unbelievably, it’s when we step outside our comfort zones that we learn something new about ourselves.

One of the writing prompts we have been exploring is the story of our name.  I’ve witnessed the student engagement in writing that ensues when students are asked about the story of their names. Many teachers in my writing session have chosen to share the story of their name on their blogs. They masterfully weave a very personal story, one that clearly demands taking a risk. Some are humorous, some are poignant. Honestly, every single teacher in my writing session has jumped in with both feet and launched a blog. I’ve referenced this list in another post, but here again is the link to 29 blogs of risk-taking teachers in Inspiring Reluctant Writers:

Inspiring Reluctant Writers Teacher Blogs

6.  Time to Write

Messy, uninterrupted, nose to the grind time is a non-negotiable for every writer. The freedom to walk away from a piece, let it lie for a while, and then return to it is often a luxury for ourselves and our students.
When I ask students what they needed in order to write, not surprisingly, they repeat many of the same things we need as adults.  Here’s a spark video that captured three students’ thinking from Anne Elliott’s grade 6 class:



Did I offer these supports at our last session? You bet I did. Did we get enough time to finish some writing? Not likely. But I hope we prepared the soil for planting seeds. Seeds of writing that teachers can explore themselves and with their students.

Do you provide these opportunities in your class?

Do you require them for yourself to write?

What else do you require to ensure you have something to say?






How Will I Know What You Need as a Writer and Teacher?

I knew it. I should have blogged right away.  After preaching the value of blogging and insisting participants in my Inspiring Reluctant Writers session capture their reflections, I let the moment, and the memory, go. I knew I would benefit from reflecting on the day, but Busy, that pushy partner I heed, made other plans.

Once time has passed, those snapshots of memory morph, the colour fades and distilled thoughts evaporate.

I do remember the way I felt, as if being pulled in opposite directions.  I recall the highs of hearing teachers’ stories of the impact that live writing was making on their students, how in awakening their writing muse, they’ve found themselves nostalgic for the writing they ‘used to do.’ I also remember the lows of recognizing I haven’t engaged everyone in the group, how I struggle with the pacing of professional learning across a whole day.

Just below the surface, I’ve wrestled with a lingering knot that I’m trying to untie, a lesson I thought I’d learned:

the one who’s doing the talking is the one who’s doing the learning.

In a court of law, I could readily explain why. I want to inspire and provide a variety of texts, model a few strategies, craft a couple writing moves. Writing takes time, space, community, ideas. You can’t just walk in and write cold. I hold true that teachers engaged in writing will help them teach writing.  I try to balance what I’ll call ‘heavyweight’ independent writing (around identity, the story of your name, where you’re from) and ‘lightweight’ collaborative writing (6 Things You Should Know About _______). When we write, we learn the struggles of being a writer and are more likely to be empathetic to the writing we ask our students to create. When we write, the lessons we learn personally feed into how we teach writing and that makes it authentic.

But that doesn’t excuse me from doing most of the talking.

I stand gazing up at two towering goals.

  1. to create the conditions where teachers feel safe and empowered to write themselves.
  2. to support teachers’ instructional practice so they effectively teach students better ways to write.

I grapple with the time writing demands and the time required to imagine its application in a writing workshop. No quick fix. All teachers want things we can implement tomorrow, along with ideas that will percolate over time.

So, I am facing the dilemma of what’s the next step. Where might we go in the coming session that will benefit these teachers as writers and teachers of writing? If I were in a classroom, all the complexity and excitement of the talk, the reading, the writing, would drive the next lesson.

Maybe we will start there. Start with some time to talk, some time to read each others’ writing and student writing to determine our own personal learning needs. We’ll ask ourselves and each other: what am I seeing in this writing that could be improved and how might I get there? A real writer’s roundtable. We can share the responsibility of what we’ll learn and rely on each other for steps to move forward. Together.