Writing Clubs: Fostering Choice, Collaboration and Community in the Writing Classroom

by Fran McVeigh

Wakelet archive of chat tweets here

On Thursday, March 31, 2022, the #G2Great chat featured Lisa Eickholdt and Patricia Vitale-Reilly discussing their book Writing Clubs: Fostering Choice, Collaboration and Community in the Writing Classroom. Neither author is new to #G2Great. Lisa was a guest host at #g2Great for The Power of Student Writing as Mentor Text on September 3 and 10, 2015 and Patty was a guest host on June 8, 2017 for Engaging Every Learner and October 19, 2017 for Supporting Struggling Learners. This new text about Writing Clubs has a magical and practical feel after the disjointedness of education in the pandemic years.

The subtitle says: Fostering Choice, Collaboration and Community. As I reflected on that phrase and thumbed back through the text after our chat, I chuckled to myself. Of course the three Cs were in alphabetical order. However, the most logical place to begin is community and then work backwards through the remaining Cs. Let’s get started.

Why Community?

The Writing Clubs that Lisa and Patty describe in this book are based on a writing workshop classroom. That means that certain conditions already exist and one of the most important is community. The trust. The respect. The safe environment. All writers value each other and their experiences. That power of a community naturally and planfully evolves into a collaborative setting when teachers capitalize on the time that is available for students to write.

Ideas for building community from Lisa and Patty:

Why Collaborate?

Pre-chat Quote

Research on the power of talk appears across the content areas. The increase in engagement, written production, increased depth of thoughts . . . all are possible with collaboration. The teacher has some decisions to make. Should students work as partners? Triads? Partners squared with a second partner group? Space determines some limitations and yet technology can transcend physical space when students are ready to read, review and offer feedback on each other’s work.

Why Choice?

Choice.

Do students really have choice?

What’s the reality?

Do students “get to choose” what they write about in their student writing notebooks? What they write on a daily basis? When they write? The formats they use? What do we know about what students WANT to write if we would only let them?

Consider this . . .

Conduct a status check for students. Then also conduct a status check for teachers. Move into a deep look at writing identity. If the writers have a timeline of their writing identity, have them code the times when they had choice in their writing. They may code choice of topic separately from choice in format. What information are you looking for? What information will guide your future instruction?

Why does choice matter? Carolyn succintly says it here.

When teachers responded to a question about choice, these kindergartners had 95% choice. Some high school students had little to no choice in writing. Similarly, college students had few choices.

So are students writing because they are compliant students? Do they view themselves as writers? Are they writing enough to improve? Where do they go for feedback? Do they have real audiences? Real purposes to write?

And then Part 2 of the book . . . Chapters 3 – 8 . . . the good stuff! Complement Clubs and Stand-Alone Clubs

“I barely have time to teach all the requirements. Where will this fit?”

Teacher question

Maybe you will find logical places in your calendar. Those few days before a longer break. A more casual setting during state tests. Those final days of a semester. Where writing clubs will fit for you and your students may need more exploration, but make a plan. Don’t let it fall off your radar.

The good news is that Lisa and Patty provide the rationale for complement clubs in process, craft, and digital clubs. Stand-alone clubs are genre, author, and conventions clubs. And (drumroll . . .) these clubs can be face to face, hybrid or digital learning. The frameworks have considerations for each type of learning environment.

So many resources. So many opportunities. So much joy in writing.

Lisa and Patty provide examples such as the chart below on collaborations or possible authors, or a month long outline of a club. These examples make this book a necessity for any teacher looking to ramp up their writing instruction and student engagement in writing! With Lisa and Patty’s expertise as your guide, you can consider the clubs that would benefit your students and begin immediately!

You’ve read a lot about the chat and the book from my perspective as a writer and reader helping folks navigate the writing terrain that I see and hear in districts. Let’s hear from the authors about their intentions and expectations for this book!

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would  have in the professional world? 

Patty began using writing clubs in her classroom years ago and saw the tremendous difference it made with her students. She loved how these clubs fostered choice, collaboration, and community. When she shared this idea in sessions she and Lisa were leading, the participants wanted to know how they could implement writing clubs.  After seeing the teacher’s excitement, the idea for the book was born. 

We have seen the impact writing clubs can have on students’ writing. Providing students with time to collaborate with their peers on self-selected writing projects and studies, can reignite the workshop classroom. We hope teachers will take the idea of writing clubs and run with it. We give examples of six types of clubs teachers might implement, but we’d love to see what new clubs teachers come up with on their own. 

What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will  embrace in their teaching practices? 

The title of the book really says it all. In particular, the words after the colon: Choice, Collaboration, and Community. We believe these three C’s are the key to excellent writing instruction. Our book puts forth methods and ways to promote each of these concepts. Our hope is that teachers will incorporate these ideas into their instructional practice as we believe they make a world of difference in kids’ writing. 

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in  mind?

As writers, we have witnessed firsthand the power of collaboration and feedback. Lisa belongs to a critique group that meets once a month to discuss each member’s current picture book. Patty has her own writing posse who she meets with to flesh out writing and professional development ideas. We have learned that writing well is a lifelong pursuit and receiving peer feedback along the way is invaluable. In addition, it’s fun! Our meetings often include food, wine, and books (some of our favorite things). Teachers are expert at taking something adult authors do, and finding a way to put these ideas into practice with students. Writing clubs are a great way to bring the idea of critique groups into our writing work (keep the wine for the adults though :)).

Concluding Thoughts

This quote …

plus a bit of “Joy Writing” or “Greenbelt Writing” (Hat Tip to Ralph Fletcher) needs to inform our educational practices. How, when and where we incorporate low-stakes writing, more choice, collaboration and increased community is literally up to us. This book, Writing Clubs, gives us the tools and the best advice from two author-practitioners who have worked successfully with writing clubs!

___________________________________

Additional Resources:

Writing Clubs Study Guide Link

Lisa Eickholdt Link

Patty Vitale-Reilly Link

#G2Great #5 Yes, They Can! Empowering Community

by Fran McVeigh

Thursday, November 14, 2019 was the fifth and final chat in our “Yes, They Can!” series envisioned by #G2Great Team Member Valinda Kimmel. Our focus was on “Empowering Community” and the discussion was lively with some common threads for the evening and the entire series. Basic concepts included: “Yes, They Can”, communication, transparency, and student agency but with that quick look at our end point, I would like to recap the first four chats to establish a sequence of learning and set the scene for this post.

This “can do” theme has been a great source of optimism and positivity so when the following tweet in my Twitter feed stopped me in my tracks before I began to study our Wakelet, I immediately had a lengthy conversation with myself. (Several conversations!) This tweet seemed to embody the opposite of what our series was hoping to initiate, develop, and nurture. Numerous re-readings kept me focused on the concept of transformation and the amount, volume or depth of pressure in order for change to occur. Check it out! What does it say to you?

Twitter, November 14, 2019

In order to empower students, hear from #studentvoices, teachers, leaders, and community, the status quo will need to be disrupted. That process or transformation will take time, work and a desire to “stay the course” in spite of adversity. Keeping Denzel Washington’s words to “trust the process” in times of trouble will serve us well because our “stick-to-it-iveness will be tested. Keeping the end goal in mind will pay off when we encounter productive struggle and yet remain planful and purposeful.

Reprise: Favorite Quotes

This series of chats had some very consistent recurring phrases: Whole Child, High Expectations, Restraints/Barriers, Partnerships, Measures of Success, Advocacy, and Sustainability whether they were worded that explicitly in every chat. In isolation each phrase is specific to empowerment and worth of investment in resources. And yet, layers of high expectations from students to teachers, to leaders and to communities may result in higher levels of success, advocacy and sustainability when the phrases are also interwoven and combined.

Empowering Community

The final chapter. The final chat. I hear Frank Sinatra in the background, “And now, the end is near, And so I face the final curtain . . .” A focus on “Yes, They Can! means that community will need to be defined. Classroom community, building community and district community will all have impact. But what about the relationship between the school components, the people in the school and the community in which they reside. How well do their needs match up? How well do they interact on a regular basis?

Communication was one key factor that emerged from tweets in our chat. Communicating a consistent school mission/message about the importance of learning and the goals of the school. Communication about the roles of the students, the importance of student agency and the role of the community stakeholders on a regular basis in learning. Communication included measuring and reporting success in stories that matter to the members of the community.

Student agency was another key factor in this chat. The role of students, their own voices and their choices in their learning as well as in volunteerism in the community were noted. Real choices. Real roles. Not just checking off volunteer lists but finding, exploring and developing their personal passions.

Transparency also emerged as a third key factor that included many of the topics in the chat. Transparency in measures of success. Named targets are easier to achieve that unknown shots in the dark. What data is reported beyond the required external, summative assessments? Who tells the stories? Do they show in the board reports, local newspapers, and student yearbooks?

And then the most important factor, the “Yes, They Can!” that was the theme for all five weeks. A belief in students. A belief in parents. A belief in teachers. A belief in leaders. A belief in communities. With high expectations, everyone can reach higher. Everyone can dig in. Everyone can struggle, undergo that transformation that Denzel Washington described, and emerge victorious.

How will you use, “Yes, They Can” to stretch and grow?

DateChat TitleWakeBlog
10/17/19Five-Part Series (Yes, They Can) 
#1 Empowering Students 
WakeBlog
10/24/19Five-Part Series (Yes, They Can) 
#2 Empowering Student Voices with Justin Dolci 
BlogBlog
10/31/19Five-Part Series (Yes, They Can) 
#3 EmpoweringTeachers
WakeBlog
10/24/19Five-Part Series (Yes, They Can) 
#4 Empowering Leaders  
WakeBlog
10/17/19Five-Part Series (Yes, They Can) 
#5 Empowering Community
WakeBlog