Teaching Writing or Writers?

To some, writing workshop is a frightening leap off a cliff into unknown waters. It takes a lot of faith making that transition from teaching writing to teaching writers.

Some teachers are happy with their status quo. They do the same kind of writing year after year. Everyone writes the same story. In October it might be the voice of a pumpkin. In November it will inevitably be the turkey begging to be saved, and December could be a wish list to Santa. Pencil to paper, that’s writing , right? Students learn about punctuation, sentence formation, capitalization, and spacing, That’s writing, right? That is not my definition of writing.

When I go to a school and work with the teachers on writing, I want them to teach the writers in the room, not writing. I try to help them understand the difference.

Last week, I completed my second year in a school. Our focus was writing workshop. I asked the teachers to jump into the pool of teaching writers instead writing. Some started paddling, but lost stamina and reverted back to teaching writing just like before, but they are thinking about how to do it differently next year. Some were treading water, barely keeping their head above the waterline, but they stayed afloat. Next year, they will be stronger.

One teacher said, “I thought I knew how to teach writing. I thought I was pretty good. I was wrong. I didn’t know how. Now I know my kids as writers.”

“I used to hate to teach writing. Now, this is my favorite thing to teach in my day. I feel like I am actually teaching my kids how to write, ” said another teacher.

These comments fill my heart with joy.  It’s been a good year and I look forward to another year with these teachers.

16 thoughts on “Teaching Writing or Writers?

  1. Leigh Anne Eck says:

    Pumpkins and turkeys and santas…oh my! Been there and done that. I so wish my district had the training and guidance that you give teachers. Teaching writers…hmmm.

  2. This is a fabulous way to look at teaching writing…teach the writer, not the writing. I will definitely share this sentiment with my ELA department. Great food for thought. Thanks

  3. Such an important distinction between teaching writers and teaching writing. I am so glad you are doing this work with teachers to help them make that leap. I know for myself the main thing that keeps me honest is doing the writing myself, being a writer, and feeling the rebellion in myself every time I start cooking up a classroom move that’s actually teaching writing rather than teaching writers. It’s really easy to get tired, to get off track. But yes, next year will be better.

  4. I love this concept – “teach writers not writing.” What a great coaching move for you – that idea really moves the needle on the learning done by teachers and students.

  5. I think many teacher fear this because they tend to teach writing and not the writers. What a difference it makes in a classroom when a teacher realized s/he is not teaching a subject students each having unique needs.

  6. We had some writing coaching during my era as a teacher, but no one was as clear about their mission as you are. It would have made such a difference to hear those words. I loved the list of writing assignments that teachers give…”the turkey begging to be saved.” That really made me LOL…so true!

  7. OK I haven’t read your slice yet, but just have to say…the title is perfect! I read it and instant thought…teaching writers! If you’re teaching writing, you’re not responsive to the writers in front of you. You have your own agenda, and it doesn’t matter who your students are. Now back to reading your slice…

  8. “When I go to a school and work with the teachers on writing, I want them to teach the writers in the room, not writing. I try to help them understand the difference.” This statement made me stop and reflect.

  9. Those teachers are so lucky to have you come to their school and help them understand how to teach the writers in the room! I love that you can accept the varying stances of the teachers. Change is hard, but with you on board and modeling and coaxing . . . it’s bound to be easier.

  10. margaretsmn says:

    I’ve been trying to understand why I loathe the assignments like What I did this Summer… and you nailed it. Because those teach writing not the writer. Thanks for clearing that little bugger up for me. Teaching the writer should be first and foremost in every writing classroom.

  11. The beginning of your post made me laugh and think about Pinterest. I secretly hate Pinterest and the writing prompts you mentioned remind of things you’d find on there. I don’t want to be a Pinterest writing teacher! My dream job would be to just teach reading and writing. It sounds like you do some wonderful and hard work with teachers.

Thanks for taking time to comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.