little things: writing process

If you follow me on Two Writing Teachers as a teacher, you know I’ve been thinking quite a bit about helping young writers find their own personal writing process. The more I write, the more I realize how personal my writing process is. I’m realizing if students can personalize it for themselves as well, then they will become more proficient writers.

The flip side of the coin is there are some things that all writers do. This is how the phases of the writing process were developed. All writers collect ideas. All writers make plans. All writers draft. As we become more comfortable writing, we learn to personalize these phases…finding what works (and what doesn’t) for us.
Last week, in a third grade writing workshop, I asked students to place their tags on the phase of the writing process where they were working as a writer. One student placed his name between planning and drafting. Since I’ve challenged myself to notice little things, it was something that perked my interest.
As he passed me on his way to a writing spot, he said, “I know you wanted us to choose one to be as a writer, but I couldn’t choose.”
“Why not?” I asked, wondering if he didn’t know what to do during work time.
“Well I know that I write a little and then I plan. Sometimes while I’m planning the next part I think of something to write, so I write. That’s drafting. I kinda do both together, so I don’t know how to choose.”
“Then I guess it makes a lot of sense to put your tag between the two.” I smiled as he hurried off to his writing spot.
Sometimes teachers demand students do things exactly how they want it to go. For some, my choice to empower this student to place his tag in between two phases felt “wrong.” We want students to make clear, concise choices as writers. We force them to draw big bold lines around the phases of the writing process and then we want them to jump through the hoops to produce writing.
This little thing of placing his tag between the phases of planning and drafting is actually a pretty big deal. He was personalizing his writing process. He was learning specific things about his own writing process. This is important for him. Imagine knowing this about yourself at eight years old. Imagine how much more proficient he can be as a writer now that he understands he works best when he moves between planning and drafting. 
Not only that, but he inspires me to pay closer attention to my own writing process. How do the phases of the writing process overlap for me? What works best for me as a writer? These little things are powerful noticings for a writer.

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  1. I like how your student thinks! I sometimes do the same thing and if I had to tell someone exactly where I was in the process, I would have trouble! I think the biggest obstacle for some teachers in implementing writer's workshop is giving up control, so those charts are important to them. Maybe that's why some would think it is wrong. But then, maybe those teachers aren't writers also.

  2. I shared your post Oct. 10th, when you showed the chart and explained how it helped students and teachers keep track, with one of the teachers I am working with, specifically about goals for increased independence in the students' behaviors. The teacher made a beautiful chart, with little flags with student names so they could place where they were. The teacher is also using it for a quick status of the class review before starting to work. We were so tickled when one student asked the teacher to put the flag up to a place that curved from one place to another. When the teacher asked if that was the place, the student (a 4th grader) said, 'no, a few more inches to the left, please'. Just like your story! What happened then was that the student said he thought he had progressed more the previous day in the drafting and wanted to show that progress was made. It was still the drafting line! What we didn't think to ask was 'tell us more'. Thanks for the advice to look a little farther!

  3. I get so excited when students take ownership of the writing process like this. It is rare that a student who personalizes the process does not work wonders within it. Most of the time, I find that students who have ideas that don't fit the process I have introduced, create the best pieces! I am soaking up all of your reminders to seek small and listen big.