My word was "VOICE" !!!!!
A writer's voice is what captures a reader's attention. Voice infuses the personality of the writer into the written word. And every single student that walks through our classroom doors has voice! It is our job to help the student writer discover, unearth, expose, believe in, trust, and celebrate his or her author's voice. I recently read a baseline writing prompt written by a student with autism. The piece was short and had taken this student a long time and several attempts to complete. But, when he used the word "hilarious", he had me! That is VOICE. That is what we want to hear!
Having taught elementary writing all the way through fifth grade, I worry that as we concentrate so much on prompt writing, brought on in large part by state assessment requirements, we are quieting the voices of our student writers. When we remove choice from the writer's workshop, and teach only to prompts or specific journal assignments or basal activities, we may not be providing opportunities for our students to express the joy, the excitement, the intuitive point of view inherent in topics of their own choosing.
So, that being said, here I am, leading an author study in kindergarten based on The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle. Part of me (a great big part of me) thought I should read several books by Eric Carle and let the students choose which one they felt most inspired by to use as a model for their own picture book. I'm still not sure that isn't what I should have tried.
However, I have to keep reminding myself that these are kindergartners! They do not write many words, yet. They do not write sentences, yet. They are just learning what "story" means. To offer them too many choices, I believe, leaves some kindergarten students overwhelmed and unsure of themselves. We must provide them with a context for writing in our classroom. Many of them have come to us with none.
But guess what they do come to us with? VOICE!! Yeah, that's right!!!
And, even more importantly, those who are ready to move beyond using our mentor text as a model are doing just that! As we notice students moving beyond the text, we teach in to what's happening with those writers. We celebrate their originality and risk-taking, even as we continue to offer structure and support to those students who need it.
And student VOICE is everywhere :)
It is powerful.