Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Not for the Writing, For Your Life #SOL19 #TWTBlog
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Slice of Life: Not for the Writing, For Your Life #SOL19 #TWTBlog

For so long I believed it was important to teach students to live a writerly life so that they would grow as writers.  I know that when kids write consistently, they look for topics everywhere.  My purpose in teaching this over the years was to help students find important, meaningful topics – to always be on the lookout for their next topic.  Now that I write, write for myself and an authentic audience like this slicing community, I have a completely different point of view.

I think once you experience writing for truly personal reasons you realize that living a writerly life is not for the writing but for the life.  When you live on the lookout for moments that are worthy of your consideration, you live a fuller life.  You notice more, appreciate more, feel more and connect more with those around you.  It may seem like writing is hard and some days it is.  But when you give yourself to it, without worry of other’s opinions, it is such a gift. 

I worry that in school, writing is a bit too focused on the product and not the process.  I want our young students to experience the gift of writing for one’s own purpose.  I want them to have the time and space to explore their questions, feelings, beliefs, passions and worries.  When you put yourself on the page you push yourself to grow and discover new aspects of yourself.  When we over-scaffold our students so their product looks how we think it should look, we are not giving them the opportunities they need to discover and experiment.  They need to try things they are not ready to do and gloriously create a mess.  This mess will help them discover what it is they really want to say.

I feel the tension between helping our students meet standards and find their voice.  I know both are essential, but I believe our students will show more growth in the long run by valuing purpose and voice. If we know we get better at doing something by doing more of it, then it seems to me if we help them find their voice and purpose, they will do it more and subsequently grow more as writers as well.  Jennifer Serravallo says, “Without engagement, we’ve got nothing.”  I truly believe this. If we engage them in the process, they will become more proficient and they just might also live a more engaged, happier life.


Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Deb, Kathleen, Kelsey, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum from Two Writing Teachers. Check out the writers, readers, and teachers here.

  • Avatar
    Lynne Dorfman
    Posted at 09:46h, 18 March Reply

    I agree, Clare. We need to focus more on process than on product. Being a writer is a life occupation – not just a school thing. Yes! Formulaic and over-scaffolded pieces sound plastic and phony – without voice and without energy. Your piece speaks volumes here!

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    Posted at 09:50h, 18 March Reply

    I agree. “If we engage them in the process, they will become more proficient and they just might also live a more engaged, happier life.” I also think that if students are more engaged in the process, their skills will transfer to other subjects where they have to write as well.

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    Kevin Hodgson
    Posted at 09:56h, 18 March Reply

    “…. living a writerly life is not for the writing but for the life.”
    Well said, and your insight will have me thinking on this today.

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    Lynn Grainger
    Posted at 10:07h, 18 March Reply

    I agree totally. Children read with their families and they grow in that proficiency. How many families foster and model writing? How many teachers are writers beyond the report card comments and newsletters? This is why I’m participating in this month, to flex my writing muscles.

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    Diane Dougherty
    Posted at 12:18h, 18 March Reply

    Make a glorious mess–yes! I fear that too often we, as teachers, obsess about product. You are so right, we need to focus on process.
    I love what you say about a writerly life being more about the life than the writing. The March challenge does make me more observant. I should consider exercising my writerly life all year long.

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    Elisabeth Ellington
    Posted at 12:33h, 18 March Reply

    I love the line about the writing life being more for the life than the writing. This is what I find when I am writing regularly. I am more present, more connected, I notice more, and I am actually a happier person. And I also love what you say about making a mess. Writing is messy. Any kind of good learning and good thinking probably is, at least at some point in the process. School doesn’t generally have much tolerance for mess! I’d like to see us reflect a bit more on how we can create more authentic learning conditions for students, and mess is definitely part of that.

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    Posted at 19:09h, 18 March Reply

    This is such a poignant post, Clare. I totally agree. Writing about my life makes me a better writer but more importantly helps me navigate my life. It helps me mark moments of celebration and sadness. It helps me through the confusion. I think school writing is too much about correct and incorrect and often so boring for students. The green belt writing that Ralph Fletcher speaks about- when kids have space to explore writing of their choosing- I think that really makes a difference.

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    Mandy Robek
    Posted at 20:18h, 18 March Reply

    writing for truly personal reasons – choice is so important even when we have standards and outcomes to help them achieve. Thank you for your reflections.

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    Paula Bourque
    Posted at 22:49h, 18 March Reply

    OH I love, love, love this! I think we ARE too focused on product and not process. I mean, why do most of us write? We don’t have a lot of products to show for it, but we’ve got some great thinking and some playful passions. We’ve got better imaginations and more curious minds. So much of my writing is for no one but me. It enriches my life. I want that for our students, too! THANKS for sharing this.

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    Posted at 22:58h, 18 March Reply

    Clare so much to think about in your slice today. I think your words: “But when you give yourself to it, without worry of other’s opinions, it is such a gift” is the most important piece for me. I have been thinking about this a lot since posting my Papa Dave story this weekend. How many of our students know they can give in to their stories is the question I ask myself thanks to your post.
    Thank you also for the reminder of the “process over product” phrase – first heard from you many years ago!

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    Danielle Metzler
    Posted at 00:09h, 19 March Reply

    I find that when your looking for stories, you live more mindfully! It’s a great byproduct!

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    Fran Haley
    Posted at 01:08h, 19 March Reply

    I fear I could write a whole book in response to this – how much I agree with you, Clare. The lines about too much focus on product versus process — it’s why kids can’t write, don’t write, don’t want to write. Until writing is authentic, until it springs from a place of meaning within, until children realize the power of their voices and feelings and ideas and words – their STORIES – it’s all just compliance. Love this post and will be rereading it, many times.

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    Susan Kennedy
    Posted at 01:19h, 19 March Reply

    The more one writes, the more it’sjust about the flow. The more we give young writers a chance to just go for it, the better they will come to write. It’s the same theory as read. Just let them write.

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    Peg Bruno
    Posted at 01:29h, 19 March Reply

    This especially speaks to me right now as I look ahead to a writing data team meeting and have very little writing that is not ‘school writing’ from my students. In our 6th grade model, our writing is all integrated so there is lots of great writing, but not much choice. I would LOVE to do more. Now it’s just figuring out how… because you are so right!

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    Heidi Atlas
    Posted at 01:37h, 19 March Reply

    This is lovely and I so agree with everything you said! I’ve been thinking a lot about that – that I’m living differently and more acutely as a result of this SOL challenge. Voice, purpose and choice are so essential for young writers as well.

  • Publishing Gratitude #SOL19 Day 19/31 – iblessings
    Posted at 09:52h, 19 March Reply

    […] I read a post from Clare Landrigan with words that struck a chord with me. She wrote, “But when you give yourself to it (your […]

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    Posted at 16:00h, 26 March Reply

    This here is the best writing I’ve read today: “living a writerly life is not for the writing but for the life.” That’s so absolutely true. Writing makes you live a fuller life.

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    Posted at 18:18h, 26 March Reply

    “When you live on the lookout for moments that are worthy of your consideration, you live a fuller life.” – I agree with you. It’s amazing how much richer life feels when collecting slices.

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