I’ve just finished Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write. As usual, Ralph has given me some important questions to ponder (That’s what I love about Ralph.). I’m sure Ralph is right when he says that in many classrooms, schools, and districts, writing workshop no longer looks like a joyful (and hardworking) place where students consider their passions and interests, select topics and genres, think hard about their audiences, and write (a lot) in a safe and supportive climate created to match the studios of published writers. In so many classrooms today, the writing workshop has become a more teacher (or maybe unit) – driven place where, although there is some choice, it is often quite limited. The issues of “rigor” and “meeting standards” are also front and center, creating an environment that can feel a bit more like we are pushing students to meet benchmarks rather than write really well, with strong voice, and from the heart.
In Joy Write, Ralph introduces a provocative idea – add some “greenbelt” writing to the schedule. By “greenbelt” writing, he is talking about the free, wild, feral type of writing that lets student writers explore, wonder, sketch, and pursue projects and interests. He is asking us to find ways to put kids in charge of their writing, and encourage honest writing filled with voice and choice and authenticity. This kind of writing, according to Ralph, should not be heavily influenced by the teacher (guided and supported, yes, but not graded or subjected to checklists and other measures). Ralph suggests that we find ways to include this type of writing in addition to the writing workshop. I’m all for this kind of writing. I know how powerful it is. I taught third grade during what I might call the heyday of writing workshop!
Here are some of my questions:
-Can we find ways to include this “greenbelt” type of writing in the writing workshop, or does this writing have to be different and happen at a different time of the day/week?
-Could we consider putting a week or two of “greenbelt” writing in between our writing units?
-If we keep this kind of writing separate from writing workshop, will teachers be able to find the time in their already jam-packed schedules?
-How can we get teachers to do some of this “greenbelt” writing so that they can feel the power of this kind of experience?
I’d love to hear your responses and questions. I’d love to start a conversation about how we can get back some of the joy and energy that was so powerful in the writing classroom.
Thank you, Ralph Fletcher, for getting this conversation started!