One of my heroes, Katherine Bomer, has reminded us over and over that writing is one of the most vulnerable acts for students in school. They must lay their thoughts and “imperfections” out there on paper to be exposed to their peers, their teachers, and sometimes the entire school community. This is terribly scary for many students. It is a wonder so many are still willing to even try. The right type feedback can make a world of difference to all writers in continuing (or even starting) to write.
We teachers, even before the groundbreaking work of Donald Graves, have been reminded to teach writers, not writing. Yet, when giving feedback to writers we most often focus on the writing itself. We study it for its strengths and challenges and consider next steps for growth in that particular piece of writing. This is undeniably helpful. However, it is missing at least half of the sort of feedback that can truly create invested, skillful, and joyful writers. Instead of solely offering feedback based on student writing, we can offer feedback on the work of writers.
This work is often challenging, so challenging many would like to avoid it altogether. What’s more, it is invisible to anyone looking at a final piece of writing. Yet, this work is crucial and incredibly impactful to the writer AND the writing. Sylvia Duckworth’s image illustrates the work of a writer that most do not see:
Modified from its original image
Perhaps you’ll share with your students this robust reminder of what writers either need or do to create that final piece of writing. Our feedback on these experiences can recognize, celebrate, and give pointers on how to work through the challenges that arise. Here is a tool that you may want to use as you give feedback to your writers about living as a writer.
Click on the table for an enlarged .pdf version.
We all know that writing is challenging so let’s not keep those challenges a secret. Instead, let’s make them public, give feedback on how to work through it all, and celebrate the hard parts because those hard parts create beautiful writing. And beautiful writers.