Friday, November 8, 2013

Incorrigible Children and Writing Circles

Students had the honor of listening to Maryrose Wood, author of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, discuss her life as an author on Monday.  From attempting Broadway to working as a director, Wood's unique experiences helped build the foundation of her writing career.  Not only were we treated to a dynamic read aloud, complete with character voicing, we were also given quite a few writing tips.  For me, two stood out from the rest.  First, she reassured all of us that first drafts need not be perfect.  Often, writers get blocked because they worry too much about the 'best' word, or how to beautifully phrase the next idea.  It's not that these issues aren't important, but they can be dealt with during revision.  The second bit of advice follows from the first.  Writers need to adopt a 'yes, and' attitude instead of a 'no, but' one.  If, after every sentence, we were to say, "Yes, and..," our writing would would be filled with ideas, details, and elaboration.  Throughout the week, students have heard me repeat these kernels as they worked to develop their writing.

In class, we launched writing circles this week.  Modeled after literature circles, writing circles emphasize student choice while providing an authentic audience.  In groups of four, students will be responsible for choosing the week's topic, composing a draft, sharing writing, and providing feedback. After seven or eight meetings dedicated to generating ideas and drafts, the groups will transform into publishing circles.

One of the things I like most about writing circles is how decisions are left to the groups and the individual writers.  To begin, groups need to reach consensus regarding topics.  This requires some flexibility as well as the ability to compromise.  Initially, we practiced an activity called 'Stack the Deck'.  Using notecards and a simple rating system, writers were able to submit and vote on topics anonymously.  After selecting a topic, students were given time to write (typically, they will have six days to complete a draft as writing circles will meet on D or E days).  I asked them to reflect on what our visiting author, Maryrose Wood, had said about composing a first draft.  After 15 minutes of uninterrupted writing, students shared their work with one another.  This time only, reviewers offered no response.  Various types of peer feedback will be taught and used in subsequent meetings.  I am excited to join the writing groups as well.  Each week, in each class, I will write with one group, share my piece, and receive feedback from the kids.  I suspect I might have a thing or two to learn myself!

photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc


  1. Thank you for giving the students the opportunity to learn and interact with Ms. Wood. Hearing directly from someone who has mastered their art is such an important part of helping the students make connections between the classroom and the real world. And, I love hearing about your writing circles. Writing can sometimes be perceived as a solo/isolating activity, but your circles will certainly prove the contrary and infuse some team fun along the way. Bravo to you for continuing to find ways to enrich the learning environment for our 6th graders.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Karen. I couldn't agree with you more regarding the significance of hearing from the masters, and she was absolutely awesome! I ordered three of her books for my classroom library and am hoping the kids will enjoy them. I am really looking forward to writing circles and helping kids take control over some of their writing. I think it will be a rich experience for all of us.