Professional Response #1

Professional Response #1

Children want and need to communicate, and writing offers them an outlet for creative expression. Calkins suggests that children view writing as an act that helps them communicate, but adults impose too many rules, and we “have turned writing into an exercise on lined paper” (p. 59). She goes on to argue that “[o]nce children regard themselves as writers, they go through their lives like vacuum cleaners, sucking up knowledge of written language” (p. 72). Unlike many of my experiences as a writer in elementary school, Calkins views writing as an act of discovery. Within the context of a writing workshop, especially the one that Ray describes in her opening vignette, I think that Calkins’ philosophy about teaching writing makes a great deal of sense.

In particular, since I want to teach children in later elementary school, I agree with her point that “[a]s children get older, their work can become more intentioned and deliberate” (p. 150). Many of the assignments that I did in school were not of my own intention – state reports, book summaries, note taking, and fill-in-the-blank lab reports. As Ray compares the idea of a writing workshop to that of the writing process, I realize more and more that I may have been using the writing process, but my writing was not intentional, nor was it really something I enjoyed, even though I have always considered myself a writer. I wonder how students who typically struggle with writing feel about this though? Do they prefer, maybe even need some structure to their writing tasks? Would a workshop environment like Calkins, Atwell, and Ray describe really help them progress as writers?

Also, as I consider the number of GLCEs that address the writing process, I wonder how I can fit them in to an overall writing workshop structure? I agree with Calkins that students need to develop their own ideas and have options for how they pursue these topics (or not) over time. Yet, I also know that I am going to be teaching in a school (and state) that requires certain things to happen in the curriculum, and I don’t want parents to think that their students are wasting time during our language arts block if they are all working on “whatever they want,” so to speak.

I come back to Calkins’ idea that “[a]s children become more planful and more aware of what they do when they write, they also become more open to instruction” (p. 151), and I wonder how this connects to what we are doing in our own writing workshop time in ENG 315. The minilessons that our instructor presents are much shorter (hence,
“mini,” I suppose!) than most of the lessons I recall in my writing history. If students are more open to instruction as they get older, do mini-lessons get longer or more complicated? What makes up a good mini-lesson? And, how do you get through everything that you need to teach if you are just doing one short lesson each day?

All that said, I was really excited to see Calkins’ ideas about how writers develop over time, as I hadn’t really understood how a child goes from drawing stick figures with a few words in kindergarten to full-fledged stories by later elementary school. I now have a little bit better understanding of this process, and I am looking forward to seeing how Calkins’ ideas connect to larger aspects of teaching writing. I know that I learned how to write, and I still enjoy writing. Yet, I wonder if my teachers had used some of these ideas if that would have helped me learn more about the craft of writing? Moreover, how do I help my students become better writers if I am still not entirely sure of my own writing abilities? These might be some questions that I explore in future professional responses, and maybe even in my inquiry project, too.

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