The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge kicks off March 1 and we are excited to have this guest post from author Stacey Shubitz on the secret to teaching writing well. (Shhh, it has to do with being a writer!)
The Secret to Teaching Writing Well
By Stacey Shubitz
Last month, I was eating lunch alongside a dedicated fourth-grade teacher whom I’ve been working with this year. She’s the kind of teacher who reads professional literature regularly. She co-creates charts alongside her students and refers to them in mini-lessons. She spends hours providing feedback to her students on their drafts. Despite doing all of these things, she felt as though the teaching of writing challenges her in ways she didn’t anticipate when she began using the workshop model a year-and-a-half ago.
“Am I doing anything wrong?” she asked.
“Not from where I stand. You’re well-prepared daily and consume so many professional texts.”
“What’s the secret?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“What’s the secret to being a great writing teacher?” she asked.
“No one’s every asked me that before,” I said. I pondered her question, then asked her one of my own. “Are you writing every day?”
She looked away and said, “no.”
“That’s the secret. You have to be a teacher who writes.”
“But I don’t have time to write every day,” she confessed.
“What if writing every day will make everything you do with your students easier? Would you be able to find ten minutes in your day – daily – to do it?”
“If it would make teaching writing easier, then I would,” she said.
My first literacy coach, Pat Werner, told me I needed to write alongside my students if I wanted to teach writing well. I was a first-year teacher who wanted to succeed so I did everything Pat told me to do. I published a piece of writing every single time my students completed a unit of study (which was eight times during my first year of teaching!). In addition, I started a writer’s notebook, which I wrote in regularly. I listened to Pat and therefore have never taught writing without writing regularly.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that being a teacher who writes is the secret to teaching writing well since you are a bona fide part of the classroom writing community. When teachers write in-service of creating teacher-written mentor texts for their minilessons, they’re able to tailor their teaching so they are not only teaching what a strategy is and why it matters, but how to carry out a strategy in their writing. Teachers who write and share their writing show their students the attempts they’ve made. When their attempts become mistakes, they’re able to talk about them and show students how they’ve grown as a writer by taking writing-related risks. In addition, teachers who write can anticipate the hard parts of the writing process during a unit of study, which helps them respond empathetically to students.
Living a writerly life can happen by devoting ten minutes of every day to writing in a notebook. However, many people find writing in a notebook isn’t enough for them since they need accountability partners and an audience to read and respond to their writing. If you fall into the second category, then I invite you to join the 11th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge on Two Writing Teachers.
The Slice of Life Story Challenge began on Two Writing Teachers in 2008. The online challenge’s mission is to support teachers who want to develop and sustain a daily writing habit. Over the years, the challenge has given rise to a community of teacher-writers who are better able to support the students they serve in writing workshops by helping them to live a writerly life. Every day, for the month of March, teachers are invited to write a slice of life story – an anecdotal piece of writing about a segment of one’s day – on their own blogs and then share the link to their story on Two Writing Teachers. Each person who leaves a link to his/her own blog visits at least three other people’s blogs to comment on their slice-of-life writing.
Many teachers have found daily participation in the Slice of Life Story Challenge has helped them find a tribe of like-minded educators who they can share pieces of their life with. Many of us meet up at local, state, and national conferences so we can connect in-person, not just online, about teaching and writing. In addition, participation in the Slice of Life Story Challenge provides many teachers with a special kind of camaraderie with their students. Being a teacher-writer means teachers can transform their students’ lives because they believe in the power of writing.
The people who participate in the Slice of Life Story Challenge are a welcoming community of teacher-writers – at varying points in their educational careers – who come together to share blog posts about the ordinary moments every Tuesday and every day during the month of March. I hope you will join us for the 11th Annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, which begins on Thursday, March 1st. Click here to find out how to join our community of writers.
Stacey Shubitz is an independent literacy consultant, an adjunct professor, and a former elementary school teacher. She’s the author Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts and the co-author of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. She is presently working on a book with Lynne Dorfman, which has the working title of WELCOME TO WRITING WORKSHOP (anticipated publication date: Winter 2018/19). She blogs at Two Writing Teachers and can be found on Twitter @sshubitz.