By Stacey Shubitz & Lynne R. Dorfman
In a writing workshop, we often find ways to celebrate our writers and their writing throughout their process of imagining, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing their work. We use nonverbal cues – a nod, a thumbs up, a pat on the back, or a smile to acknowledge the small steps students take to create a writing piece. Larger celebrations are important for writers because they give them an opportunity to engage with a new audience, creating excitement and enthusiasm to continue to revise and edit as well as to continue to do the hard work of imagining and creating future writing pieces.
In many classrooms, portfolio celebrations occurred once per marking period. Writers select the piece they wanted to share and their rationale for their choice. Often, this includes an explanation of why the piece is valued. For example, the piece could show how the writer took a risk and tried something new such as a new organizational format or genre. Perhaps it was chosen because the topic was so important to them or they felt it represented their best effort that semester. Students share their process during portfolio celebrations, giving the audience a closer look at their work. In this way, the teacher, the writer, and the writing community gains some insights into a writer’s identity, not just the individual piece of writing.
There are so many ways to organize a celebration of writing. At the end of the year, Lynne secured the gym for two hours and had tables and chairs arranged café style. Parents contributed tablecloths and flower arrangements. Students sat with their family members and friends to share their writing. Sometimes, students collaborated to share their poems for the entire group. Mics for speakers were provided and copies of the poems for audience participation. The audience was instructed to snap their fingers (1950s Beatnik coffeehouse style) as applause. Guests for this event received a personal invitation created by the authors and snail mailed complete with a return reply. In this way, writers could experience yet another real-world writing experience.
Like the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston, you might offer an artist-in-residence program where local writers of newspapers, magazines, and authors and illustrators of children’s books can visit to share their thoughts about their own writing processes and provide feedback for students’ final drafts. Here, students can be encouraged to enter writing contests and/or submit their pieces to local newspapers, community and school newspapers, children’s magazines such as Stone Soup, completely written and illustrated by kids from 8 to 13. Finding places to publish and acquire new audiences is a way to celebrate our students’ writing.
Students can create a poster of their work, a biographical sketch of their life as a writer, related artwork, photographs, and artifacts that help to highlight a piece of writing. These posters can be displayed around the room so that students can carousel to read and to comment. Students can create a QR Code to connect their audience to a tape recording of the author reading their piece aloud. Half the class will remain in their seats and continue to write independently to reduce circulation problems. Students should be able to take their time so they can offer responses on sticky notes at the bottom of the poster page (Be sure to leave some space!) or use note cards provided by the teacher to respond and drop the envelope with the notecard inside on the author’s desk.
Another popular celebration in elementary school is the author’s chair. Reading a final draft or published piece is a great way for students to build confidence and self-esteem by receiving feedback from audience members. A student writer volunteers to sit in the author’s chair; he is not assigned to do so. The writing that is shared has already gone through revisions and edits. A special chair is designated as the author’s chair – a rocker, a director’s chair, a spare teacher’s chair. Usually, the audience gathers on a carpet in front of the chair to listen to the reading. Audience members share praise, ask questions, and offer suggestions for revision. Authors may respond to the comments they receive. The teacher’s role is to model the feedback they hope their student writers will give to each author. Not only does the author’s chair provide a wider audience for student writers who want to share and receive feedback than a traditional teacher-student or peer conference, it helps all students develop listening, reflection, and critical thinking skills.
Many teachers are still teaching students remotely, which means writing celebrations need to be reimagined for the virtual world.
Consider a virtual author’s chair in a couple of ways. First, gather your class on video conferencing software so each student can “have the mic” to read their piece. If you’d prefer to lead an asynchronous author’s chair, then use Flipgrid. Students can record their writing aloud and peers can stop by to leave a comment after hearing their writing read aloud.
Celebrate process, rather than product, by leading a virtual Author Q&A using video conferencing software. Invite students to share an excerpt from their piece that represents something they worked diligently on as a writer. Encourage them to talk about the strategies they used or a risk they took to bring their writing to life.
Utilize an online board, such as Padlet, for celebrations. You might lead a virtual gallery walk by creating a Padlet board of your students’ finished writing pieces. You could use Padlet as an online portfolio tool by allowing students to save anything to their portfolio that reflects their writing process, research process, evidence of collaboration with a peer, or their finished product. Then, provide time for students to work in small groups to share their Padlet portfolios with their peers. (If your school doesn’t utilize Padlet, you can use whatever learning management system your school uses so students can share and comment on each other’s work.
Entertain the idea of creating a podcast to celebrate students’ writing. You can create several episodes which invite students to come on to read their writing and talk about their writing lives and process. Once the podcast is live, invite members of your school community and caregivers to listen to the episodes!
Writing is not easy! It takes a lot of time, patience, and plain hard work! Writing workshop celebrations give students several sessions each year to share a piece of writing, receive feedback from classmates, friends, family members, and teachers, and just have some fun! Writing celebrations help to reinforce strategies good writers use and highlight ways in which authors write and problem solve. Children learn from each other as the writing community cultivates a sense of pride and accomplishment. Looking forward to sharing their writing in the author’s chair motivates writers to work hard during independent writing time. Writers write to communicate their ideas with others. Writers need and want an audience – that’s why writing shares are crucial to engagement and perseverance. Writing celebrations can provide a wide variety of audiences and help writers continue to do the hard work of writing every day. Finally, writing celebrations will foster a love for writing and help students imagine the possibilities for their craft as they listen to each other’s writing and receive feedback in these positive environments. Isn’t that what we want for all our writers?
About the Authors
Stacey Shubitz and Lynne R. Dorfman are the co-authors of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021) and Welcome to Writing Workshop: Engaging Today’s Students with a Model That Works (Stenhouse, 2019).
Lynne is an adjunct professor for Arcadia University and K-8 literacy consultant. She is a co-editor of PA Reads: Journal of Keystone State Literacy Association and co-president of KSLA Brandywine/Valley Forge. Lynne is co-author of many books including Grammar Matters: Lessons, Tips, and Conversations Using Mentor Texts, K-6 and A Closer Look: Learning More About Our Students with Formative Assessment, K-6. She blogs at https://lynnedorfmanblog.wordpress.com and MiddleWeb.
Stacey is a literacy consultant and a former elementary school teacher. In addition to the above-mentioned titles, she’s the author of Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts and the co-author of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. She blogs at Two Writing Teachers and can be found on Twitter @sshubitz.