Every year, without fail, I am confronted with the dilemma of how to encourage my students to write a lot without compromising drawing as a form of expression during writing workshop. While I understand that drawing is important to writing at this stage and that a drawing can be as intricate and detailed as a piece of writing without pictures, I am still conflicted when I see children who draw flowers, candy canes, and the like just because they have the choice. At the same time, I have to remember that I must take the children where they are in order to get them to go where they can go next. But, should I limit the amount of drawing the children do? Should I “require” writing to happen before drawing? And, what does all this seemingly aimless drawing tell me about my lessons and my students’ grasp of what I’ve been trying to teach? As I write this I remember a wise teacher once saying that we need to eliminate the shoulds and musts from our vocabulary. Hmmm…
Last month, this issue rose to new heights as I read my students’ writing folders and their writer’s notebooks in preparation for writing report card narratives. I discovered that while their writer’s notebooks were full of great writing, most of the “writing” in their folders was actually drawing. In addition, many of the illustrations had little to no detail, didn’t convey a story or message, and seemed like doodling – what you might do as you chat with friends about everything and anything under the sun. The writer’s notebooks are a place where I prompt the children to try out different kinds of writing or topics that they wouldn’t normally choose on their own with the hope (maybe this is where I’ve gone awry) that they can transfer this into their own writing projects. The dearth of writing in the writing folders was true regardless of a particular child’s stage of writing development.
So, I panicked. Usually by this time of the year the majority of the kids are writing lots of stories and there are just a few that I may need to encourage so that they can increase their fluency as writers. So, I did what I always do when I identify a problem or concern in the classroom: I talked to the children about it. By this time, they had noticed the lack of writing in their folders as well because they were getting ready for student-led conferences. This awareness prompted lots of talk about setting goals to write more and to write first and then draw. I became aware of the importance of referencing mini lessons where we talked about writing that is meaningful to the writer and the reader. And, rightly or wrongly, I did encourage them to write first as a way to balance all the drawing that had been happening for the last three months.
What makes this somewhat easy is that my students love writing workshop. They love that they can sit anywhere they want, work with a friend or not, choose what they’re going to write or draw about that day, and share their pieces of writing with everyone. This is not a minor accomplishment as I wouldn’t be able to talk to them about increasing the amount of writing they do unless they already loved the idea of writing.
Over the last few weeks I have noticed more writing and increased talk about new ideas for stories. My favorite has been the Mommy Jail series. And, the other day one of my most challenging (to me) students said, “Señora Waingort, you know what? I get a lot of ideas from the class.” And, he mentioned how a read-aloud I had done recently had sparked an idea for a story.
Sometimes I just need to be patient. It will come. It will come.