Writing Workshop News

Issue #19: Choice Matters!

"I wish we could change the world by creating powerful writers forever instead of indifferent writers for school." ~ Mem Fox

Is Choice Really That Important?

Learning how to make choices is an important life skill. In the article "Offering Children Choices: Encouraging Autonomy and Learning While Minimizing Conflicts," Grossman discusses the role of the decision-making process in developing personal attributes. Not only do children gain a sense of autonomy and learn problem-solving skills, they also build resilience.

So why do some of us struggle with giving kids choices when it comes to writing? Aren't all of these attributes important when we work with writers?

Perhaps it's our own anxiety that gets in the way. How can I keep track of every writer's progress if everyone is writing about something different? How can I possibly grade all those pieces of writing if everyone has written about something different? How can I be an expert on everything? Guess what? You can't! And truthfully, it's not about you. Calkins reminds us in A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop, "Writers write to put meaning onto the page. Children will especially invest themselves in their writing if they write about subjects that are important to them."

Basically, choices matters! Fletcher and Portalupi point out in Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide, "Let's get right down to it: while the teachers may determine what gets taught, only the student can decide what will be learned. This is true for learners of any age. We learn best when we have a reason that propels us to want to learn. When students have an authentic purpose for their writing--whether to document an important event in their lives, get classmates to laugh, or communicate a message that matters--they pay attention differently to instruction. Our students know best which topics and purposes for writing matter most to each of them. Letting them choose their own topics and set their own purposes makes it a lot more likely they'll be engaged and receptive."

So what next? Baby steps. Like Kate and Maggie, authors of The Grateful Teacher, we must decide: "This is the choice I have -- to take the difficulties in my life as a burden that I feel sorry for myself over, or to take them as gateways to greater wisdom, fulfillment, and serenity." What choice will you make?

In Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, Ralph Fletcher suggests a few simple ideas you could try right away in your classroom.

  • Schedule "Open Cycles" or "Free Choice Zones" periodically during which students have the opportunity to write about whatever they want.
  • Give students choice in how they write. Study the writer's craft in various mentor texts, then encourage students to try that style in their own writing. For example, they might include conversational language, humor, illustrations, slang, or a child's way of speaking, even if it's not grammatically correct.
  • Dig deeper. Find out what interests your students. What do they like to read about? What do they like to do in their spare time? Encourage them to write about those topics that matter most to them!