Since the 2019-2020 school year marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays, I’m resurrecting and updating old posts that sparked a lot of conversation or that still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s essay originally appeared on November 14, 2016.
a teacher tweeted me with this question:
kids revise, their changes may not be improvements. How can we lead them to
make their manuscripts better?"
a great question, but it’s not something that can be answered in 140
characters. And in fact, I’m not sure there is an answer—at least not one teachers
think that the only honest answer is that revision is messy, and sometimes our
attempts to re-envision our writing are complete and utter failures. That’s why
writing is hard.
I describe in this Revision Timeline, creating the picture book No
Monkeys, No Chocolate was a 10-year journey. When I share this timeline
with students, the first question the ask is: “Does it always take so long to
write a book?"
it doesn’t. (Thank goodness) But for most of the picture books I write, the
journey from inspiration to publication is far longer than most people expect.
Here are some stats:
an Aardvark Bark?
. . . 7 years
Not Just for Flying.
. . 8 years
Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs . . . 7 years
Place for Butterflies
. . . 5 years
More than a Home . . . 6 years
. . . 5 years
each of these manuscripts, I wrote draft after draft after draft. And I openly
admit that some of those drafts were worse than the ones that came before them.
it comes to writing, not every attempt is an improvement. Not every idea pans
out, and you know what, that’s okay. It’s part of the process. Like I said,
writing is hard.
it’s also important. For more and more people, being able to clearly express
ideas and information in writing is a critical job skill. And that’s why I
think the best thing a writing teacher can do is:
good coach knows how to help players improve by giving them the right advice at
the right moment. Writing teachers can do this by building a classroom
collection of mentor texts and handing students titles that will address the
specific writing elements they’re struggling with.
For nonfiction, the collection should include books with:
—various formats and text structures
—different writing styles (narrative and expository)
—different voices (lyrical, lively, and various options in between)
use of language devices (alliteration, onomatopoeia, similes and metaphors,
also teach strategies by going over past games play by play. Writing teachers
can use old student work to showcase how those writers chose a clever format or
used voice well or included strong verbs.
a Role Model
and again, when I do writing workshops in schools, I see that the classes that
do the best are the ones where the teacher participates. She pays attention to
what I’m saying. She takes notes. She asks questions. And most importantly, she
writes right alongside her students.
she writes, she verbalizes the things that are challenging her. She asks her
students for advice and suggestions. She encourages them to consult with one
another. She shows them that writing is a struggle for everyone, and yet, it’s
something that is worthy of her time—and theirs.
students feel frustrated or defeated, writing teachers can spur kids on. They
can encourage young writers to keep trying by sharing examples of their own
setbacks and successes. They can also share the trials and tribulations that
professional writers discuss on their blogs or social media.
When students see
that the adults around them struggle with writing, that it's just part of the
process, they can learn to move past the frustration they feel and experience
their own successes.