Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What's Your Bumper Sticker?

What's Your Bumper Sticker?

Ralph Fletcher begins joy write sharing a story of a student who asked him this very question.  At first, Ralph explains he was perturbed. How could he condense all his thoughts on writing to a bumper sticker?

Finally, he says,
"Writing is fun."

Ralph is quick to say not all writers would agree writing is fun, but honestly, if there isn't any pleasure in writing, why would we write?  

I paused to consider what my bumper sticker would be, and while no bumper sticker could possibly convey the complexity of writing, I am taking into consideration, "writing changes you" as my bumper sticker.

Here Are A Few of My Other Contenders:

Writing grounds you.
Writing isn't for wimps. (This one was a tie, it just makes me smile.)
Writing is brave.

"I love the smell of words and the crunch of sentences, the little jolts of satisfaction that comes when a strong sentence snaps cleanly into a paragraph." Ralph Fletcher

When I read those words, I had to stop and reread them to my daughter, who also enjoys writing, (thanks to her amazing kindergarten teacher @SharonEsswein).  There's something palpable about these words and the crispness of their sentences. It's when your words fall into this crispness that I fall in love with my writing. I want my students to find this same feeling in their writing.

Ralph goes on to explain the need for writers to be free to use language in flexible ways. He shares a conversation he had with Tom Romano about exactly what is meant by the use of flexible language.

"And if students are getting marked off and penalized for trying anything out of the strict norm- even if teachers think they are simply ensuring that students observe conventions- the student will become gun-shy and linguistically wary."

These words, their meaning, and their power got a huge AMEN from this educator!  Writers of all ages need to feel free to tell their story, share their thoughts, and communicate in a way that is compelling and personal to that writer. If we stifle this freedom and creativity, we limit the writer and their willingness to explore and experiment with genre and technique.  

Reading Ralph's thoughts allowed me to breathe and to trust myself and my students.  He believes allowing kids time to play, explore, and fool around with writing is essential in becoming a writer.  In this open space, the greenbelt of writing as Ralph refers to it, is a safe and free writing zone.

As an educator, this is where my professionalism comes into play.

Here are my goals and responsibilities:

Protected time-
I need to be true to the original basis of a workshop, where the largest investment in time is in the student's writing, 25-30 minutes of a 55-minute workshop is protected for student writing time.  

I am a Writer-
As a writer myself, I know the various pitfalls, strategies, and processes a writer experiences and I can read the needs and strengths of my students. This enables me to meet them where they are and move them forward at their pace. I know writers need ownership in what they write and how they write, I give them this freedom.

Read the Behaviors of the Writers-
I watch to determine the favorite genres, topics, struggles, and strengths of the writers. I look at the energy of the workshop stepping in and supporting gently and within the writer's zone of proximal development. When appropriate, I stay in the background to allow the raw, open greenbelt writing Ralph savors in entitling writers to flourish.

Know the Development of a Writer and the Standards-
Ask yourself what do these writers need right now, not what are they going to need next year. Ralph reminds us "Pushing kids to learn something before they're ready creates a lot of stress."

If you're ready to see what all this could look like in your classroom, or you're searching for a few fresh ideas for your writing workshop, grab joy writing and dig in! Ralph includes ideas from Slice of Life Classroom Writing Challenge, personal notebooks, and tips on engaging the reluctant writers. in your community.

This book was truly a joy to read, pun not intended!


  1. I love your bumper stickers! My bumper sticker would say something like "writing freaks me out but I stick my toe in anyway."

    This book will come in the mail tomorrow. I'm so excited about bringing the joy of writing back to my classroom. I know I can find balance between the different demands of our writing time. I can't wait to talk to you more about this!

  2. What a lovely reflection filled with nuggets to entice others to check out this great resource! It's so thoughtful, thank you for sharing.

  3. "Reading Ralph's thoughts allowed me to breathe and trust myself...". AMEN! I just started this book, but I am savoring every word. I couldn't agree more with what Ralph was saying about the push for "fidelity" with many current curriculums that undermines the professionalism of the teacher and has us second guessing what's best for our students. I truly enjoyed your reflection and the connection you made with Ralph's book. All writing teachers need to read this book. Imagine the possibilities if they did...

  4. Love your reflection! I fell in love with this book the second I opened it and am going back for a reread this summer. It really is a Joy! I'm thinking of carving out some greenbelt writing time outside of my workshop where my littles can just write. To just be free with their ideas.