Friday, June 20, 2014

The Power of Prewriting (Part 1)

posted by: Lynn Harper-Harris, Instructional Consultant

For many years as I worked through the "Writer's Workshop" process I often found many students who were continually stuck in the "I don't know what to write about!" phase. My first response to this question was to provide the student or students with a list of story starters or prompts - much to my dismay I still often heard the cry again "I don't know what to write about!". After reading "Notebook Know How: Strategies for the Writer's Notebook" by Aimee Buckner and after much reflection about how I see myself as a writer I came to the conclusion (ah-ha moment) that writing is a personal experience that can not always be ignited by story starters or prompts - indeed good writing comes from our experiences, our interests and from our heart. Writers naturally write with "good voice" when they are writing about topics or experiences that they are passionate about.

I found an answer to the cry "I don't know what to write about" in the idea of a student's "Writer's Notebook". This is not a new idea - writers have used notebooks to collect ideas, thoughts, drawings... since - well - I guess the invention of the notebook. Lucy Calkins and Ralph Fletcher have written extensively about notebooks as a tool for prewriting. I have certainly come to understand their conviction for the use of this tool. I truly believe that...

"A writer's notebook is an essential springboard for the pieces that will later be crafted in writer's workshop" (Stenhouse Publishers).

In Regina Public Schools I have worked with teachers from grades 1 to 8 in the exploration and implementation of this tool. As with any implementation of an unfamiliar tool and/or strategy I soon discovered that some critical questions arose as to how to best utilize this tool in the Regina/ Saskatchewan context. Some questions that surfaced were...
  • How does the notebook support/compliment our First Steps Writing resource?
  • How does this tool fit with the Saskatchewan Curricular outcomes?
  • How does a school organize and implement the strategies outlined by Aimee Buckner - can the same strategies be introduced repeatedly?
  • What are the best kinds of notebooks to use? Where can I find them? Who pays for them?

As I continue to blog about this topic I will address some of these questions.

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