For years I’ve started every class by asking students to Write into the Day. I compare it to the first moments of yoga when I sit cross-legged, close my eyes, clear my brain, and breath. Writing into the Day serves the same purpose. It’s our breathing onto a blank page so we can clear our heads and place ourselves into the mind-space for writing.
Our first couple times of doing this, students ask me, “What should I write?” Without trying to sound contrite, I respond, “Whatever you want. But you must write/draw/doodle something.”
Sometimes I offer a suggestion: “If nothing comes to mind immediately, write your ABCs in a font you wish existed in Word.” It’s the magic of meeting pencil with page that matters.
We only spend five minutes doing this focusing exercise, but I believe these five minutes are essential in establishing ourselves as writers within a writing community. For five glorious minutes, the room quiets, pencils/pens/crayons/markers scribe, and thoughts that once swarmed in our heads now exist in concrete manifestations.
Over the years, my students and I have written in multiple genres and for multiple purposes in these five minutes—writing that has included:
This year, I’m pairing Writing into the Day with Writing out of the Day. I believe giving time for students to reflect on their learning is the single, greatest gift I can give them as learners. It allows them to make a record of their progress. It allows them to see that each class session is an opportunity to grow. It’s a powerful time for e-VALUE-ation when the learner gets to find VALUE in their learning.
Ultimately, my goal in Writing into the Day and Writing out of the Day is to make writing an every day routine. It’s the routine that allows us to see how much value writing can bring into our lives.
The new semester beckons and the promise of new faces (with fresh writing ideas) enters my undergraduate class focused on teaching young writers. A mentor, Don Graves, whispers his advice every time I begin anew: The first thing you do is write yourself.
Before I introduce myself, the content of the class, or the purpose of our time together, students open to a blank daybook page. Our composing process begins.
First, we brainstorm. I read aloud a simple book: My Map Book by Sara Fanelli. Fanelli is an artist who created this whimsical book in 1995 and it contains a collection of drawings mapping various aspects of her life. It includes maps of her town, neighborhood, day, tummy, family, dog, face, and heart. It reminds me of Georgia Heard’s excellent book Heart Maps (2016) in which Heard offers a simple tool (Heart Maps) to help students find topics close to their hearts for writing.
After I display a couple of pages, I stop and ask students to choose a map to draw. They spend five minutes creating a quick sketch. Then they find a partner they do not know, and share their drawings (and stories) with a stranger. After five minutes, they are no longer strangers.
We move back to our seats and view a couple more pages of Fanelli’s book. We pause, turn to a fresh page, and draft a second map. Again, we have choices. And Fanelli provides us several models. After another five minutes, we find a trio of peers and share again. We say our names, we tell our stories, we bond.
I finish Fanelli’s book. Again, we draw. Again, we meet new peers. Again, we share. Again, we make connections.
Finally, we turn our drawings into writings. We take a snippet of a drawing and turn it into a memoir, a poem, a biographical sketch, or whatever genre our topic needs as its form. I write alongside my students as we work to build our writing community. And after many minutes, we share our drafts with peers.
I ask two brave souls to bare their souls to the whole class in an Author’s Chair. They tell their peers the type of response they seek and we respond accordingly. When they finish I thank them. I know how vulnerable it feels to share a piece of your heart aloud. I know the risk involved in the exposure. And I appreciate their bravery.
In sixty short minutes, a classroom of strangers becomes a classroom of acquaintances. In a few weeks we will morph into a classroom of friends. By the end of the semester we will be bonded forever by this brief interlude along the timelines of their lives.
How do we build a community of writers? It’s simple. We write. And we share. All of us….together.
Thank you to Barry Lane for uploading this beautiful nugget onto YouTube!
About the Author
Brian Kissel is an Associate Professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His focus is writing instruction. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Hattie and three kiddos: Charlie, Ben, and Harriet.