Friday, November 01, 2013

Finding the Value in Writing

By Wendy Sheets
Intermediate/Middle School Trainer

During a recent week of training with our intermediate and middle school literacy coaches, we revisited writing drafts that had been created from seeds planted in writers’ notebooks. Through the process of exploring various aspects of writers’ craft through minilessons and conferring, the coaches had worked on revising their pieces, and were now coming together in small groups to share their work. As I moved among the coaches, my heart swelled with pride as I observed the transformation they had made from teachers to writers. One shared a compelling poem about the last day he had spent with his brother before his passing. Another stirred my emotions with images of her grandmother’s cooking and the cherished times they spent together in her childhood kitchen. As writers, it was obvious they were less tentative about sharing their work. They had learned from wonderful mentors how to consider aspects of craft, trying them out, and producing pieces of themselves to share with others.
Jane Hansen (1996) wrote about the importance of evaluation at the center of writing instruction. This use of the word “evaluation” is in reference to the root: value. As we consider the value within our own writing, we are forced to think about our audience and their reactions. Working with students is no different. They have stories to share too! As we enter into that sacred act of conferring with a young writer, always keeping in mind how fragile writers are, it seems sometimes he holds his breath as he waits to find out what value we find in his writing. When we do, it may come as a surprise because what we value may be different from what the writer valued, or what his peer valued. As a transaction (Rosenblatt, 1994) between the reader and the text, multiple meanings are possible. “The “meaning” does not reside ready-made ‘in’ the text or ‘in’ the reader but happens or comes into being during the transaction between reader and text” (p. 929).

Consider the context of Interactive Read-Aloud and the collective construction of meaning that develops as we look at a published piece of writing together. As we confer with young writers, or as they respond to one another, think about the growth that could occur when “evaluation” takes place on that level (Hansen, 1996). To optimize growth in our writers, we can help them identify what they do well and to set goals for what they plan to do to become better. As our students make choices about their goals, their topics, and the genre that best fits their topics and goals, they learn to use self-evaluation to continue a sense of forward momentum.
Supporting writers through minilessons and conferring, teaching them to value writing and set goals for improvement, and honoring the work they do will enrich our students’ agentive identities within a community of language and literacy learners.

Hansen, J. (1996). Evaluation: The Center of Writing Instruction. In Padak, et al. (Eds.) Distinguished
                educators on reading: Contributions that have shaped effective literacy instruction, 5 (3),
                545-553. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Rosenblatt, L.M. (1994). The Transactional Theory of Reading and Writing. In Rudell, R.B., Rudell,     
                M.R., & Singer, H. Theoretical models and processes of reading  (4th ed., pp. 1057-1092).
                Newark, DE: International Reading Association.