Supporting Our Most Reluctant-to-Share Writers

 

We’ve all wondered what more we could do to help the Todd Andersons of our class–the painfully shy writers who would rather do a week’s worth of extra homework than read one line from their writer’s notebook aloud.

And while leaving the shy student alone and allowing him to skip his turn in the sharing circle may seem like a benevolent gesture, it robs that student of an opportunity to grow as a writer and, ultimately, as a person.

This year it seems I have more Todds in my class than ever before, so I’ve had to resort to new methods to support these reluctant-to-share writers and keep our writing community strong and balanced. Below I’ve shared five ways to encourage your apprehensive writers to join in.

Quiet Activities: After the holidays passed, I was so thankful that my son had been gifted a few “quiet” toys–toys that don’t make noise but still satisfy his sensory needs. These toys are especially useful before naps and bedtime; they help calm him and prepare him for rest. Sometimes the toys that make noise are just too loud! Imagine how unnerving “loud” sharing activities can be–activities where students are asked to read something they wrote in a loud, clear voice; activities where other students are allowed to clap or comment on the writing that has just been read aloud. Quiet sharing activities can have the same effect on anxious students: a silent read around of student work or listening station where students share their podcasts or poetry recordings or even a graffiti wall of quotes from student writing can help calm and support nervous students.

Share & Nominate: Simple but powerful, the “share and nominate” method has had better results in my classroom this year than any other technique. The idea is simple: students are asked to share something from their notebook with their table partners. Most students are comfortable doing this; it’s when they’re asked to share out loud to the whole class that they go into hiding. During the sharing process, let students know that they should listen for a piece of writing that is too good to be kept at the table–a piece of writing that simply must be shared out loud with the class! If a student hears stellar writing, he or she can nominate the student to read her work aloud. Shy students often get nominated, a vote of confidence that helps almost any student muster the courage to read to the class.

Give Choice: No one like being put on the spot. Would you like to read a piece of writing out loud if you weren’t happy with it? If you were having an off day? We have to respect that students sometimes have good reasons for not wanting to share. Offering choice for when they share eliminates the anxiety caused by forced sharing and gives the student autonomy. Perhaps you tell your students they must share something once a week or once a month–you decide what works best for your class. Another variation of this method that I borrowed from Jeff Wilhelm’s three-index-card discussion is to give each student three sticky notes and to tell them they have to get rid of all three sticky notes by the end of the month. How do you get rid of sticky notes? By sharing some writing.

No Big Deal: Reluctant-to-share writers usually don’t want attention. They don’t want the class to stop to listen to them read something. They don’t want classmates to ask them about their writing. They don’t want the teacher to invite them to “say more”–or maybe they do, they just don’t know it yet. Either way, it can help to minimize the attention you draw to a student when you ask him or her to share writing. So make it “no big deal” when you ask them to share. Next time you see your Todd Anderson doing something great in his writing, say something like, “Class, Todd is doing something really neat in his memoir right now. He’s writing in present tense, rather than past, and it makes his scenes feel so immediate, so raw. I can’t help but want to try it in my own memoir. If you’re interested in this technique, you might try to get with Todd during workshop today.” And then move on. This brief spotlight on Todd  presents him with an opportunity to share his work with writers while complimenting him on a specific writing technique–helpful for everyone!

Indirect Sharing: I have a student this year who never speaks above a whisper. Talking out loud to anyone is one of the most challenging parts of her day. But when I saw her using the highlighter feature in Google Docs to note the balance of scene and summary in her memoir, I knew she had to share this useful tracking technique with the class. She let me project her document in front of the whole class, but the focus was on how she was using highlighting to note patterns in her writing, not the writing itself. A few days later I asked another student to do this–to share his rehearsal of a piece of writing (he had created a storyboard) rather than the writing itself.

 

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A student indirectly shares his writing by projecting a storyboard–rehearsal for later writing–in front of the class.

 

Taking the focus off the actual words the student wrote can help relieve some of the anxiety caused by sharing until the writer gains enough confidence and trust to open up.

There are so many ways to move a writer. Some writers need help with idea and organization. Some need grammar assistance. Some need another person to bounce ideas off of, someone to show them where they need to elaborate or cut. And then there are those students who need help telling their story–the ones who need help finding their voice and sounding their barbaric yawps–both on the page and in the world.

How do you encourage your shyest students to share? How do you create a balanced writing community where all voices are heard? Leave us a comment below, find us on Facebook, or Tweet us at @rebekahodell1 and @allisonmarchett.

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