Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Building Community in 15 Minutes a Day

Laurie Halse Anderson, author of young adult novels including Speak and Wintergirls, launched a writing challenge on her blog this month: Write Fifteen Minutes a Day, or WFMAD. Anderson invites readers to spend 15 minutes writing every day during the month. She provides writing prompts, advice, and encouragement. All readers have to do is set aside 15 uninterrupted minutes and write.

Where's the community in that project? Look in the comments to the blog entries, and you'll see people, wait, strike that. You'll see WRITERS talking about their work. They describe triumphs and challenges. They talk about where they were when they wrote—in an office, a comfy chair, or a coffee shop. Some reflect on what they have written about. Others talk about how family and friends (and a few pets) supported their work. In just 15 minutes a day, Laurie Halse Anderson has built a great community of writers.

In the classroom, this kind of project can forge great connections among students. Just follow Anderson's example, and provide a prompt, advice, and encouragement. Anderson even says that the prompts can be reproduced for classroom use!

Of course, you can easily adapt the project for any students and class. Scale the time up or down as appropriate for the class. Fifteen minutes is probably plenty for high school and college students, but you might use a shorter period for younger students. Don't have 15 minutes a class session? Choose a shorter period of time, or scale things back so that students write every other day or once a week. The project could also be done for simple homework assignment.

There are a few things that I wouldn't change about the activity though:

  • Be sure that the writing prompt you choose require a personal response. You might ask students to talk about something that happened, a dream for the future, or a favorite object. Tap students' personal experience.
  • Choose a general topic that gives students plenty of choice. Remember that writers have more authority when they can choose a topic that they are comfortable with.
  • Welcome any and all kinds of composition—freewriting, polished paragraphs, story boards, and so forth. Invite students to do whatever kind of writing they want to. The important thing is to write. Exactly how they write is less important.

Once students do their writing, it's time to use their texts to build community. Invite students to talk about their experience with the project. Anderson has some suggestions for conversation in her blog post. For instance, she asks writers to add comments that tell her "what it felt like when the 15 minutes were up." Look through the comments on other WFMAD posts on Anderson's blog for additional topics you might discuss after writing. Of course, you can also ask students to talk about the content of their 15-minute writings.

Using Anderson's project as a model, you can jump start community building in the classroom this fall. The first days of school can be very scary. As teachers, we need to make students feel comfortable with each other as quickly as possible. Writing is the answer. Welcome students as writers, give them advice and encouragement, and watch discussions about writing blossom as students build connections and encourage one another to write. And you can do it all in about 15 minutes a day!


Debbie said...

If any readers have participated in a summer institute affiliated with the National Writing Project, they have probably experienced just the development of community you are describing. Every day starts with a writing prompt--usually something very interesting--followed by sharing. After participating in the experience, writers realize the value of that sense of community to their writing--and teachers can create it themselves, as you describe. Thanks for reminding us.

Susan said...

Check out her blog/web--it's mighty fine! Yes, we have done this in our writing institutes, but here is an inviting way of presenting it to others with an enthusiastic voice from a published author. I think I will give this link to my students this year along with the ARTIST's WAY work I've suggested in the past.
Thank you,Laurie Halse Anderson.

Jet said...

For more fun writing prompt ideas, check out Jolie Stekley at her blog, Cuppa Jolie. She does Monday Moments, which are prompts to get you more inside the head and personality of your main character (or any character). These could easily be tailored to suit the classroom application.

flanneryfan said...

Thank you for the back to school ideas. I have journal entries prepared for my 6th graders, but as a writer, I'd like to see more than just the writing come from spending five minutes writing. I've an idea now to encourage any kind of writing, as you suggested, and something which they will really appreciate! Stretching it to fifteen minutes will be too long daily, but weekly it could be done easily. Thank you.