Teaching Writing in High School: Reflections from TCRWP Workshop

More than twenty years ago I spent my summer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshops for teaching reading and teaching writing. My teachers, Katherine Bomer, Pam Allyn, Isoke Nia, and Lucy Caulkins left an indelible impact on my teaching over the course of two decades. My classrooms still is still guided by Reading and Writing Workshop.

Earlier this month I attended a three day summit with #TCRWP on teaching writing in the high school. Interestingly, in all my years teaching and working with TC, reading and writing workshop was for K-8 and it was enlightening to be working among high school teachers to see the possibilities of bringing this model of teaching into high school. This particular workshop focused on teaching memoir and narrative writing in high school. Despite being geared towards high school, many of the ideas and texts presented in the workshop are adaptable across grade levels.

Let’s start: “Writing is hard and the hardest part is getting started.”

Why start with narrative and memoir?

  1. When students tell their stories we are building relationships (culturally relevant teaching)
  2. We teach storytelling with passion and grace we help students make meaning from life

Launching memoir and getting students ready to begin writing is “having the courage to tell your own stories.”

We began with listening and viewing Renee Watson’s “This Body,” a poem from her book Watch Us Rise.

We started with the video, rather than a dense text as a mentor text to provide an accessible text for our students to discuss and write off of. One way to get started as a writers is getting inspired by other writers. Teachers can help students begin memoir by writing poems and vignettes.

Writers need time to write, lots of mentor texts, choice, and responses from a community of writers. One great move that my workshop leader showed was not to just provide one mentor text, but she actually offered us a Padlet with multiple mentor texts and had each of us pick one to read and study it and record the writing moves we noticed the writer using. What moves dis this writer make that inspired me? We use mentor texts to move our writing forward. After reading and discussing the mentor text students are able to build a vision how their own memoir can go based on the study of the mentor text.

Within the memoir lessons we were talking and thinking about what our memoir is really tell us? We focused and wrote around issues (Is there an issue hiding in a story that is big in your life?, change (Is there a critical change that happens in the story that means something to you?), and identity/relationship (Does the story arise a question about your relationship or identity?). We stretched our writing by talking and creating time lines. We also created some storyboard and story maps, and creating our own story arcs. We even used poetry to elevate our writing. We wrote poems off scenes in our memoirs to think deeper about our piece and place that we think needs more clarity or imagery.

Teaching students to write memoir can be a powerful start to the school year and launching of writing workshop. Memoir and narrative helps to celebrate the diverse voices in your classroom and provide choice and agency. By modeling our own stories and writing alongside our students, they can come to learn that their stories matter.

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