Lucy Calkins shared this quote in her transformational work, The Art of Teaching Writing, New Edition (1994) on page 23, and I used it for the cover of my very first writing binder. For me, it holds so much truth and single-handedly forms the foundation for what I believe to be the most critical and non-negotiable pillar of writing instruction - in order for all kids to write, they each have to believe that they have "stories to tell". They have to believe in themselves as authors. Once they identify themselves as people who write words and/or draw pictures to convey meaning to an audience, they can begin to see their own lives as rich with stories to tell or facts to share or arguments to make.
Building a sense of authorship in young students is challenging. I have been in many, many upper elementary writing classrooms where most students had no idea of what to write unless the teacher directed them with a prompt or other writing activity. They no more saw themselves as authors than as doctors or lawyers. Their context of being writers was the limited work of completing assignments designed by other people. They did not see themselves as the thinkers and creators and composers of what they wrote. And because they did not possess the habits of mind of writers, they did not see their lives as full of stories. Their eyes had never been opened to seeing the value of their own life stories.
Don't get me wrong. There is a real need for student writers to be able to write to a prompt, or to complete a writing activity embedded in a quality STEAM or PBL project. Our teachers are providing lots of opportunities for students to write.
But, what I am talking about today is a sense of authorship. An identification with a person who sits at a desk, stares at a white piece of paper (with or without lines), imagines text and illustrations, thinks deeply about meaning and purpose and audience, and writes. And writes. And writes. And then rewrites. And rewrites. And on and on.
Authors write stories. Authors write picture books. Authors draft. Authors spend days and weeks on one piece. Authors are purposeful about every single mark that they place on the page.
Which brings me to this morning...
I have been smiling and laughing and celebrating as I compile our kindergarten writers' ABC picture books! We have made it to the letter "Mm"...halfway there. :)
But the glass really is more than halfway full. Something is building in our room. Something big. Authorship! Our kindergartners have authored one half of their picture books! They can hold in their hands thirteen pages of text and illustrations. I have every intention of placing these halfway finished books in their hands tomorrow. I want to tell them to just look at what they have done!
They have each worked for the past two weeks on one book. I want them to be amazed and awed and absolutely agog with their accomplishments.
Below is one of our new English speakers' ABC book...I can only imagine the smile on her face and the pride in her eyes as she holds the book she is writing. I will tell her she is an author just like Giles Andreae and an illustrator just like David Wojtowycz! I will compare her beautiful ABC book to their ABC Animal Jamboree. And I will tell her that I loved reading her book as much as I loved reading theirs.
I am determined to build in these writers the knowledge that they are authors. That they compose ideas, and then write the text and draw the illustrations to share those ideas with readers. And, most importantly, that they are the storytellers of their own lives.
"Stories happen to those who tell them." All kids have stories.