Writing workshop aims to foster independence and growth in the writing process. We teach and draft and revise and confer in the hopes that our students will end up in a different writing space by the end of the school year.
To be honest, we can typically measure that growth in coffeespoons.
That isn’t to say that our students’ incremental progress isn’t significant — it is! — but I rarely encounter a student who has truly become a writer by June, the hesitant-in-August writer who absolutely cannot put down their pen by the end of school. This year, I have one, and I want to share her with you as a testament to the power of writing workshop.
Ari is a ninth grade standard-level English 9 student. She is enthusiastic and conscientious — a textbook “joy to teach”. She started the year as a competent writer, as you can see in the narrative scene she wrote in September, but her most recent paper, composed during our workshop on the technique of evidence, absolutely blew me away.
I asked Ari to sit down with me to talk about her growth as a writer this year and the factors that have contributed to her transformation.
Looking at your first narrative this year, which was good, as compared to your recent narrative, which was powerful, you have grown a lot as a writer. What has happened between September and April that accounts for this change?
Since I could choose to write anything I wanted, I decided to write a longer narrative — a whole story — rather than just a scene. This was a lot harder for me. I used our mini-lessons, but I realized that writing this paper was going to involve taking a lot of risks, so I just jumped in and took risks.
I also used a mentor text a lot for this paper [Gary Soto’s “The Jacket”] so that I could figure out how to get from the beginning of the story to the end of the story. Initially, in my flash draft, I started the story at Ellis Island. But it just wasn’t working, and I figured out that that wasn’t really where my story was after all. My story was before that. So I went back and ended at Ellis Island instead.
I was so excited to see such powerful imagery and figurative language in this piece since those were mini-lessons in our unit. However, one of the things that most excited me was the repetition of your first sentence at the end of your paper. We definitely didn’t have a mini-lesson on that. What gave you that idea?
I don’t know! At the end I was kind of stuck because I realized that my story had taken a turn since the beginning. I wanted to bring the story back to my great-grandmother more fully to show how she was the same person even though her life had changed so much. It just struck me that repeating something from the beginning of her story would be the perfect way to do it.
It was! Have you always enjoyed writing? How has writing workshop this year changed you as a writer?
I have always enjoyed writing a little bit, but now it’s something I really look forward to. It has made a big difference for me to have time set aside multiple times per week just for writing.
I’ve done more personal writing this year than I’ve ever done before, but I think I’m also using those skills in more analytical writing — like our editorial. I wasn’t using imagery, but I was still thinking really hard about finding just the right word and making those words sound beautiful. All of the writing workshop skills are so transferrable.
I have found that I actually love writing now. In fact, the other day, I was wondering to myself, “Do you want to be writer?” Like, I might want to be a writer!
Next April, what are you going to remember from ninth grade writing workshop? What are you sure that you will take with you?
I don’t think I will ever sit down and just write a paper again. I have a process now. I do a lot of drafting, and I had never drafted before. I think I will also continue to give myself more time to think through my ideas so that I know I’m getting my best ideas. And I because I’m going to give myself that time, I am going to continue to be willing to change my ideas and play around with my ideas and find the best forms for those ideas.