Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Organization Elevates Process Over Product

The Classroom, by Karen Elizabeth Tornoe
Tara Smith's blog post Creating Classroom Environments: Setting Up For the Middle School Writing Workshop reminded me of the importance of organization in setting up a writer's workshop.

More specifically, the important of maintaining and using three distinct spaces for student writing matters: a writer's notebook, a classroom portfolio, and an online portfolio. In my classroom, there have been years where the writer's notebook also served as the classroom portfolio--thereby only utilizing two spaces. A mistake I learned to grow from.

The consequence of not having such a structure has been that some students have drifted to drafting only online--which is not a bad thing in and off itself. I draft online when I blog. However, that habit has then lessened the impact of the writer's notebook in my classroom. Some students used it well, yes. But too many students drifted away from the notebook and just set to writing online--everything, every stage, by midyear. And once that happens it is a challenge to move students back to the structure.

Smith's blog reinforces the distinction among the three spaces:

  1. The notebook is where ideas play on the page. Students can list, sketch, free write, etc. 
  2. The classroom portfolio is where drafts are roughed out on writing pads and stored.
  3. The online space is where writing is polished and potentially published.

Two of these three spaces contain unfinished writing. This structure elevates process and unfinished writing over final products. As a community of writers, we can't help but be immersed in unfinished writing where conversations never end and possibilities and opportunities for growth always exist.

The finality of an online portfolio or a polished product is something to treat with respect because an emphasis on product can take over the mindsets of our classrooms like weeds in a garden. We can do so much good work, but it can be overrun if we are attentive and if we do not have an organizational structure in place.

As it is true in gardens, implications arise whether we do or do not attend to process.

Five years ago, I left a post-it note on a section about elevating process over product inside my copy of The Essential Don Murray: Lessons from America's Greatest Writing Teacher to remind myself, "Type this up as a reminder to yourself--and see it everyday." 

Murray writes of the implications of teaching process, not product:

  1. The text of the course is the student's own writing. 
  2. The student finds his own subject.
  3. The student uses his own language.
  4. You are not teaching a product, you are teaching a process.
  5. The student is encouraged to attempt any form of writing which may help him discover and communicate what he has to say.
  6. Mechanics come last.
  7. There must be time for the writing process to take place.
  8. Papers are examined to see what other choices the writer might make. He is learning a process. His papers are always unfinished, evolving, until the end of the marking period.
  9. The students are individuals.
  10. There are no rules, no absolutes, just alternatives.
When the structure of the writing classroom falls apart or has never been established in the first place, then it is difficult for the writing teacher to lead his students through the benefits of the ten positive implications of process as defined by Murray.

Setting up the middle school writing classroom takes time and thought--it takes a plan. Many wonderful people have written about how to set up your space: Don Murray, Don Graves, Lucy Calkins, et al. And now another great place to start is with Tara Smith's blog Creating Classroom Environments: Setting Up For the Middle School Writing Workshop

I am wondering if other teachers have also witnessed part of their organizational structure fall apart? or not work for some students? The first few days really set the tone regarding joy and freedom and writing--but even before any of that begins, it is essential that we make time to create a space and an organizational structure in order to best invite and sustain that joy and freedom in writing.

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