How often in a child’s life do they get to set their own purpose and carve their own path? Perhaps a better question is, how often do the adults around them relinquish control to encourage kids to find their own way?
Well, I venture to guess that in today’s standards-focused schools, much of what kids do is decided by the adults around them. Even in my own classroom, this is definitely the case. I set the schedule and I choose the lessons for the day. Again, I venture to guess that this is the case in most classrooms across the country.
However, I am a firm believer in choice- choice in where to sit, what to read, with whom to work, and at what pace to work. After all, I may set the tone in the room, but it is my students who are doing the actual work of learning. In our reading workshop, choice is truly the name of the game, and my kiddos are all readers because of it.
However, I have to say that our classroom writing workshop just had a different feel to it. In writing workshop, I selected the genre, the lessons, the small groups, and the time of day. My students always selected their topics, but it just wasn’t enough to get them as excited and engaged in writing as they were with reading.
Enter Joy Write.
In Ralph Fletcher’s groundbreaking professional book for teachers, Joy Write, writing is given back to the writer. There are many aspects of Joy Write that I could bring up, but the one that has had the biggest impact on my fifth grade writers this year is the idea of Greenbelt Writing.
Earlier this school year when I introduced Greenbelt writing to my young writers, I first showed an aerial picture of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. We discussed how in the park some people choose to bike, while others decide to go for a run or walk. Some might choose to have a fun and lively picnic with a large group of friends while others find solitude on a quiet bench reading. And, just a few yards away, others are walking their dogs, joining the Sunday outdoor lindy hop, strolling through the rose garden, or suffering through a paddle boat ride on a rickety old boat on the Stowe Lake. The point is- everyone uses the city’s greenbelt in a way that suits them at that moment in time. And, what to do and how to do it is completely up to each individual park-goer. We then connected this idea to writing.
In Greenbelt writing, young writers have complete choice over absolutely everything- genre, writing partners (or no writing partners), topic, place to work, publication for all to read or not, etc. Essentially, it is a space and time for students to discover who they are and what they need as writers. Needless to say, after this idea was first introduced, there were squeals of joy and wide eyed anticipation for the possibilities to come!
Roughly once a week now for the past few months, one of our writing workshop sessions has been dedicated to greenbelt writing. In addition, when students feel they need a break from assignments, they are encouraged to do what is best for their growth as an individual writer, which may be to take a break from the assignment and head into the greenbelt- I compare this idea to the time I was writing my thesis in graduate school. I could have sat and written that thesis straight for eight hours a day without a break, but it probably would not have been my best writing. Rather, I wrote it in shorter bursts, taking a break to explore other creative ventures. And, those other creative ventures actually made me a better writer and my thesis a stronger piece of writing. Those creative ventures added to who I was as a writer.
This is the beautiful side effect of Greenbelt writing- by exploring who they truly are as writers, my students’ assigned writing volume and quality has also increased. It’s amazing what kids can do when we put all of the decision making power in their hands.
Thank you, Ralph. Thank you for helping me to inspire my young writers. You’ve given so many teachers and students such a gift with Joy Write.