“Kids remember what they build” – Stockman 43

After reading Hacking School Discipline, I decided to explore more of the Hack Learning Series of books by x10 Publications.

First up was Hacking the Writing Workshop: Redesign with Making in Mind by Angela Stockman.

As a high school ELA teacher, I’m always looking for new and better ways to teach writing, especially strategies for the writing process’s peer response workshop. (Teachers who are reading this! Drop your favorite writing strategies and methods in the comments!)

While this book didn’t turn out to be about the peer response workshop, I’m still glad I read it and have it in my teaching arsenal.

The premise of Stockman’s book revolves around the idea that the classroom should become a maker’s space when we ask students to write. Not all students are confident about their writing. Still, teachers all know that every student has a sometimes-hidden core of creativity bubbling away inside of them. Not all students “make” or create with writing. But, we can leverage what students do design and make with and help them apply the skills that help them be successful in their realm of talents to writing.

“Sharing these possibilities with print-resistant writers provides new entry points for their learning and work. Perhaps they won’t begin with print, and that’s okay”

Stockman 30

“Once they leave our buildings at the end of each day, many ‘struggling students’ aren’t defined by their resistance to writing or their future to succeed in a thousand other ways at school. They’re artists, musicians, engineers, and electricians”

Stockman 152

Some students might be natural makers when it comes to writing; their tools and building materials are paragraphs, punctuation, syntax, and sentences. But other students might create with Legos, Washi-tape, paint, discarded electronics, Minecraft, Adobe Spark, markers, paper, sheet metal, balsa wood, yarn . . . you get the idea. 

“permanency of print often paralyzes talented writers who just happen to struggle with words. It breeds false confidence in self-assured wordsmiths as well”

Stockman 12

Stockman encourages teachers to let students’ passions and talents lead them in making a writing assignment. 

Part of why educators should start thinking about transforming their writing curriculum and classrooms with making in mind is to help students become future-ready. Teaching writing as a making process helps students develop skills they can apply to all aspects of life, including unexpected tasks and careers that do not yet exist.

“Now, anyone with internet access can turn an idea into a desirable product or a much-needed solution. Then with the push of a button, one can launch it into the world, where it will land inside at a wide market”

Stockman 11

Some of my favorite words that appear in Stockman’s book are “tinker” and “play.” The goal is to get students to continuously tinker and play with their writing. I’ve hoped to make this click within students since I became a teacher nearly ten years ago. But the language of “tinker” and “play” helps me envision more engaging and fun ways to design writing workshop lessons and time in my classroom. Most students are much more excited to “play,” “experiment,” or “tinker” with writing than to simply “write.”

“I don’t want to teach students how to use [all the different resources available]. I want them to fiddle, tinker, and play. I want them to collaborate and build a sort of collective intelligence that the entire community might benefit from. I want them to know stuff that I don’t know, and I want them to turn to one another for help rather than relying on me. I want their work to be experimental and innovative, too. This means they’re going to fail at times, and it means that they may not finish, And that’s okay, because when it comes to creating perfected works, learning matters more than finishing”

Stockman 32

While I have not incorporated every aspect of Stockman’s framework into my teaching of writing, the simple step of using this kind of language in class has gone a long way. I recommend starting here if you want to turn your classroom into a writing workshop full of makers; change the language you use to talk about the writing process.

Stockman includes ideas on developing a teacher’s “spidey senses” of when students have hidden talents that she might help them leverage into the writing process. You could even start tomorrow with a simple poll or survey about what your students are interested in besides writing and creative expression. Or, maybe dig out their responses to your beginning-of-the-year questionnaire. The kids probably already told us what they’re passionate about, but did we listen? If a kid is stuck, staring at the blinking cursor on Google Docs, paralyze to write, ask them,

“What would you rather be doing right now, if you didn’t have to write?”

Stockman 42

Use their answers to help them find a way into the assignment.

She walks readers through how to renovate the physical space and the tools and supplies needed for such an area of a classroom to facilitate maker-minded writing. Part of this process is collecting items we think students can use to make or create. Dollar stores, donations, and garage sales are the design-thinking-forward teacher’s BFFs.

“Writers need spaces to gather for lessons and shared learning, quiet places to write, collaborative spaces where they can make and confer, and centers that support focused inquiry”

Stockman 60

One of the most potent things about making in the writing workshop is how it facilitates collaboration, generosity, empathy, and sharing. Students and teachers learn together, and each person is more likely to contribute to the learning community’s collective intelligence. I think about makers I see at craft fairs. I don’t see them competing with one another but sharing ideas and materials. 

“When everyone is making, everyone is struggling, failing, and persevering . . . in front of each other. Over time, this has the potential to change our beliefs about learning, succeeding, and what it means to be of value inside of a community”

Stockman 74

One way to do this is to showcase the various expertise students bring to your room each day. If each student’s wealth of knowledge in an area floods our learning environment continuously, that expertise spreads. It’s like a virus but in a good way!

“Expertise is something that we must showcase every day if we’re to create an interdependent community. If we wait for formal celebrations, presentations, or assemblies to recognize the contributions that writers make to our collective, this practice will feel more like a novelty and kids will likely interpret it as a congratulatory gesture. Make time to let expertise shine on the daily. When you do, kids will stop relying on you, and that’s a good thing”

Stockman 81-2

One way I’ve experimented with making and writing in the past few years was encouraging students to keep a Writer’s Notebook. It’s a place for them to “play” with writing, other writing, and even fine arts. Students use it to create prototypes of written products for an assignment, self-reflect. They discover stories within them they didn’t even know were there. The sky is the limit! I’m a writer, and if you saw how many notebooks I have, you’d probably think I’m a hoarder. But, listen . . .a writer needs her notebook.

“A notebook can become a writer’s greatest tool. Unlike a journal, where we engage in freewriting, a notebook is a container for ideas that we may or may not use: critical content and strategies that we learn from lessons or research, experimental bits of drafts, our attempts to write like others, and reflections on our thinking, learning, and growth”

Stockman 93

Needless today, design-forward teaching doesn’t play well with many of the outdated modes and methods we see in schools today. Stockman encourages schools to create emergent and responsive curriculums so that teachers can make good on their promises to embrace the creativity of their students’ voices. Stockman believes this is important because of an emergent curriculum.

“Ensures equity and the achievement of standards by putting the learner . . . first”

Stockman 109

One of my favorite parts about this book is what Stockman has to say about assessment. Designing assessments that measure student learning and progress to improve my instruction and meet their needs will probably be the hill that I die on. So it felt good to read from a like-minded individual. Most teachers will agree with her and find her ideas for assessing student writing and creating to be helpful.

“data perpetuate[s] many theories about performance, but . . . often fail[s] to communicate the most essential information that teachers need in order to serve students well. They might help us develop hunches about what students struggle with, but they don’t typically help us understand why student struggle . . . . our targeting is weak, and this requires us to provide increased intervention which increases the potential for side effects. Our tests are typically non-personalized and unimodal . . . .many tests run on an open loop: They don’t increase our health, or knowledge, our skills”

Stockman 167 – 68

She encourages teachers to think about assessment like a novel:

“A novel is really a collection of smaller stories called scenes which unfold in one specific time and place for a very specific purpose. . . . think of assessment in a similar way. The assessment that we make of our student at year’s end is informed one small scene at a time, as the days unfold and our studies of their learning and work evolve”

Stockman 170

It baffles me when I hear about teachers telling parents that they want to hold a child back a year . . . in autumn. What, based on forty-five days you’ve known them? Based on what assessment? A general, standardized one that overlooks all the potential within a child?

We can do better! Design-thinking and refreshing our assessment methods is a great way to start.

There are so many materials and new ideas to try in this relatively short book. I quickly felt overwhelmed, like a bad teacher, for not having done any of these things in the past. 

Teachers are terrible to themselves when giving feedback; we can be pretty harsh on ourselves. I say things to my teacher-self that I would never say to a student because I know it would crush them. Saying such things to myself is a bad habit I’m trying to break.

“Design thinking makes us agile teachers, and agile teachers produce agile writers who can sustain their influence in the world”

Stockman 22

The best way to approach implementing the ideas from this book is to take one thing — one small thing — and implement it into your classroom. From there, build on that foundation and add the layers as you go, like making a lasagna. You’re making a maker’s-writer’s-workshop-learning-filled lasagna. (Now I’m not only excited about teaching writing, but I’m also hungry).

I started with how I talked about writing with my students:

“Why not experiment with this writing technique?”

Tinker with that paragraph a little more and see what you come up with.”

Play around in your writer’s notebooks!”

“Let’s create a prototype of our personal narratives today.” (Instead of “rough draft,” you see.)

You can haul in Legos, art supplies, and a 3D printer later . . . or maybe even just in your dreams if funding falls short. It doesn’t matter. You are continuously thinking about how to capitalize on the wealth of creativity in the raw material that is our students. Focus on helping them unleash that creativity and hone their future-ready skills, and you will create such a workshop whether you have the 3D printer or not.

“Words are loose parts. Sentences are loose parts. Paragraphs and dialogue and lines of poetry: They are all loose parts. So, why do we pin them flat to static pages? Why do we require students to lock them down inside of graphic organizers? Why do we expect them to write draft by draft rather than iterating bit by bit? . . . Coherence matters in writing, but so does brilliance, and brilliance rarely emerges from first drafts or their revisions. Brilliance is the result of experimentation. Messing around. Tinkering. To achieve brilliance, writers need to get loose”

Stockman 130

“Tinkering with loose parts helps us discover, clarify, expand, and refine our ideas. They evolve as we build, and our thinking does too”

Stockman 133-34

A significant first step is to read the book and see what will work for you! (No one is borrowing my copy . . . yet).

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