Building a Writing Identity

Our backs warm against the brown leather of the family room couch, my son and daughter and I settled in to read a delicious stack of books we’d curated during our library visit earlier that day. We flipped through glossy pages, marveled at rich illustrations and wondered “What will happen next?” We did all of those things that parents and teachers do when we apprentice our children into to a lifelong love of reading. Together we read book after book after book and then came across one that was a little bit different from the rest. It was a copy of “The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus” by Jen Bryant. The book introduced us to a young boy who loved to write lists. A boy who had many interests and who found joy in using writing to organize and index the world around him. A boy who was a lot like my boy. “Hmmm. I think I know someone who loves writing lists…do you know anyone like that?” I asked my six-year-old son. Beaming, he exclaimed “Me! I’m a writer!”

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Since he started writing he has always talked about himself as someone who knows how to spell, someone who knows how to write, someone who can write five-star sentences, but seeing his style of writing reflected back to him in a book helped him see that he was a writer. When he left the couch to get ready for bed, my son made sure that the book about Roget the list-maker was on the top of the book stack, for easy reference I assume. His moment of seeing himself as a writer caused me to wonder: how can I better support learners in uncovering and exploring their own reading identity? What kinds of texts or experience can help them come to know who they are as writers? I hope every writer I work in the fuure experiences the joy of discovering the truth: we are all writers. The question we need to explore isn’t am I a writer? it’s how am I a writer?

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Joyful Text Creation

There’s nothing more wonderful than hearing learners say “let’s keep doing this!” “do we have to switch, I’m doing some really important work right now.” It’s wonderful when it’s a room full of teachers who are taking time to engage in joyful text creation as learners.

All literacy learners need to know how to interpret and compose text, it’s essential for full and active participation in many communities. As educators, we all want to support our learners as they develop their many literacies and grow as active and engaged citizens. We also want to co-design learning experiences with our students that are joyful, that motivate them to engage with, to apply and explore their literacies outside of our classrooms. img_9357

In a personalized, student-centered approach to learning, learning designers often begin by considering the learners they serve and asking: what are their interests? What are their abilities? What might be their next steps? What might be joyful and engaging for these powerful, capable people. As teachers, putting ourselves in learners’ shoes can help keep the learner at the center of the learning  design process. Which is why this experience might be a place to start when thinking about designing joyful literacy experiences with your learners. Start by experiencing joyful text creation. Try it yourself or with your colleagues. Reflect on it, then consider: how might I co-design a joyful literacy experience for and with my learners that gives them a similarly joyful, engaging experience?

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For this experience I used the ideas of Lynda Barry, Elise Gravel and Angela Stockman and put them together to create an opportunity for learners to create a non-traditional text in a scaffolded way. Follow the steps below or listen here for Lynda Barry’s instructions in her own words. You will need a piece of paper (scrap paper is great) and a pen or pencil. Add crayons, markers and other materials as you see fit.

  1. Divide your paper into quarters (one line horizontal, one line vertical) to give you 4 frames or square
  2. In the first sure, draw a squiggle. In the second, a closed shape. In the third, a line. In the fourth square, another squiggle
  3. Then take 1-2 minutes to turn each line or squiggle or shape into a monster. (You know what a monster is–crazy amounts of arms, eyes etc. they have teeth, maybe fur…you got this.)
  4. Put the monsters aside and write down a “To-Do” list of 10 things that you should be doing (sentence starters you might use include ” I really should…” “I’ve been meaning to…” “I have to…”)
  5. Now stop. Have a look at your monsters. Take a good look at them and consider your list. Which one item from your list best matches your monster? Write that in a complete sentence under that monster–like a caption (You will not use every item on your list, much like writers don’t fully develop every single one of their story ideas)
  6. Repeat that process for the rest of your monsters.

What you’ve created by putting together images and captions is a text. Some may call it a comic. Whatever it is, you’ll have experienced success creating a text that included images you created playfully and words that are meaningful because they are from the fabric of your life. That text might even make you smile or giggle.

Next, if you’d like to gauge your audience’s reaction to your initial creations, try this silent feedback protocol I picked up and adapted from Angela Stockman’s Make Writing.

(**This unfolds in silence. no explaining your work–this is your time to enjoy and react to your colleagues’ or classmates’ creations.)

  1. Take a pen or pencil with you
  2. Wander away from your own text and have a look at the texts others have created
  3. If any comic or any panel causes a reaction in you (a “me too!” feeling, a little snort, an “oo, that’s interesting”), any reaction, draw a little star beside the monster

When you return, have a look at the stars–the feedback at the point of need–that your audience left for you. What seemed to resonate with your audience? What part of your work are you most please with or inspired by? What surprised you?  Use your answers to these questions to take your work even further, if you like.

If you want to, you can take inspiration from Elise Gavel’s I Want a Monster! and you can further develop your monster–train it, deciding what special skills it has, and ponder its favorite foods.img_9360

When I walked around the room as I worked through this process with learners, I noticed people enjoying playing with crayons and shape and line. I noticed everyone could write a “to-do” list, and they enjoyed deciding what monster needed to do what. Some people couldn’t leave only stars as feedback, they were compelled to write “I hear you, sister!” and “yes!” in response to the monster. No one left to go to the washroom, or checked their email…they were engaged. They were creating something that mattered. I wondered: How might different teachers use or adapt this for their learners, their context? How did taking time to put ourselves back in the place of learners change the way we thought about designing joyful literacy experiences?

I realized that we need time to remember: we are all capable. We all have many literacies that we bring with us into learning and we love to be social in our literacy experiences. It was joyful to engage in creating, sharing and giving and getting feedback on the texts we’d all created.

 

 

#Carry Curiosity

“imagine a world…

… where each word,

each thought,

each turn of a page in a book

is the beginning of a bigger idea.”

(Rob Gonsalves)

People often ask where ideas come from. For me, it’s not a single place but a collection of impressions that come together and merge, sometimes forming and becoming visible, while other times dissolving as if never imagined.

The idea for #carryCuriosity started when I was reading Angela Stockman’s ‘Make Writing’ and Lynda Barry’s ‘Syllabus’ at the same time. I flipped back and forth between these two books marveling. I wondered, what would happen if these two books had a baby? A text and tweet later, I was committed to following my initial curiosity with two creative sidekicks, Meghan Morden and Angela Stockman, who had immediately expressed interest in playing along.

So what exactly is #carryCuriosity?

It’s a place to contemplate what makes you curious and make it visible via a composition notebook and a collection of Post-it notes, with room to grow.

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The seed has been thrown to the wind and is now on its collective journey.  It will travel between authors, artists, makers, and curiosity seekers.  Each time the package rests in a place, those near to it will be invited to add pieces of their curiosity and their knowing. With each new person it visits, it will become something new and different. We don’t yet know what it will look like but we believe that it will be a place of collaboration and wondering and a source of inspiration for all who contribute to it.

Curious? We are!

Check out #carryCuriosity on Twitter for glimpses of what happens when curiosity travels and makes itself known and visible.

Interested? Tweet us and we’ll tell you more about how you can join and help this idea grow.

Looking forward to wondering and making with you.

Cheers!

Heather and Meghan