don’t let establishing routines sacrifice readers and writers

“You’re a left winger! You’re a left winger!” The coach runs along the sideline of the scrimmage.

“You’re not trees — move! You need to protect the goal. Move up! Attack!” His feedback is constant.

“You’re a left winger! Over here, this is your territory! Be ready for the pass. You’re a left winger!” He directs according to position.

“You’re a goalkeeper! That’s how you protect the goal!” He knows soccer. He talks soccer.

There are no worksheets on the positions.
There are no lectures about what each player does.
There isn’t a diagram of the field.

Rather, he puts them in position and they play. He expects more than play, however, he expects left wingers and defenders and goalkeepers. And they learn to be these things by playing the positions.

Of course it reminded me of a classroom of writers.

Sometimes it seems like we want to define everything before students get started being writers. We teach them planning and drafting and revising. We teach them genres and capitalization rules and ending punctuation. We teach them how to format and where to find a pencil and how to select a topic.

Too often young writers lose interest before we even begin.

What if we ran writing workshop more like soccer practice? What if students started acting like writers before we give a list of things to do?

Routines and procedures are important. However, if we’re waiting to be real writers until everything is set-up, then we might lose some of the magic. Even worse, we might lose some of the intrinsic drive and challenge to become a writer.

Recently one of my kids came home and said, “If I read instead of color I get in trouble and miss recess.”

At open house, I asked the teacher, “Would you clear up a misunderstanding for us? He thinks he’s not allowed to read when he finishes his work. He says he has to color or he’ll miss recess. Will you tell him he can read when he’s finished?”

“Well,” the teacher says, “I didn’t want them reading books until they knew how to use them.” (My youngest child is in second grade; they know how to use books.)

I pause and choose my words carefully. “He’s bringing his own book from home. It’s okay if he reads his book when he finishes his work, right? Or do you want him to color instead?” (I may have choked on the word.)

The teacher pauses. “Color?” she says. Then again, quieter to herself, “Color? Color?” She blinks and says, “No, no he doesn’t have to color. He can read.”

I could see her processing the situation as we talked. I think, in the name of routines and procedures, she was trying to wait until the classroom library was established and shared. However, in the midst of it she put blocks in place for the readers in her classroom.

It is important to remember readers and writers shouldn’t be sacrificed in the name of establishing routines and procedures. The purpose of routines and procedures is to create an environment where readers and writers are able to function independently and efficiently. As I watched the soccer coach, I was reminded that routines and procedures can be established as students are working as readers and writers. They work symbiotically.

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  1. My hackles were raised as I read Sam's lament of not getting to read. You make a powerful point and one that I will share with teachers.

  2. This is why I make sure every one of my students selects two books to take home to read on the first day of school. This is before I know their reading levels or establish the classroom library procedures.