Two student statements resonate with me like fingernails down a chalkboard: I don't have anything to write about and I'm done. In Independent Writing, Colleen Cruz argues that students need to learn to write independently as much as they need to learn both the writing process and the objectives of teacher-directed mini-lessons.
Cruz emphasizes three major components of student writing independence:
Finding and Using Mentors
Colleen Cruz uses the term mentors in a variety of ways. Commercially published authors can be mentors. Individual texts can serve as mentors. Classmates mentor other classmates.
Cruz outlines mini-lessons that help students choose a mentor text and use a mentor text. To help students who struggle to find appropriate mentor texts, Cruz carries a folder of photocopied writing that may be applied to multiple student needs. Students are explicitly taught to read from a writer's perspective, analyzing choices that authors make and applying similar techniques to their own pieces.
While not explicitly stated, the use of mentor texts aligns with Robert Marzano's suggested strategy of Identifying Similarities and Differences. Cruz's suggestions might be supplemented with a review of Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Inc....
Personalizing Writers' Notebooks
Cruz argues that many students view the Writer's Notebook as something students keep to fulfill teacher requirements at school. She cleverly shows students a regular writing notebook that she uses in class alongside a "secret writing notebook" that she carries in her purse. This lesson emphasizes to students that writing notebooks can serve a variety of purposes. One notebook might be used solely for a large project. Another might contain notes, observations, and lists. Students are encouraged to manage multiple notebooks for individual purposes.
By analyzing their own notebooks, students articulate their pre-writing and drafting styles as they progress through the writing process. Some may write lists, sketches, and outlines. Others may handwrite full drafts or write checklists in the margins. Cruz also suggests students analyze famous authors' uses of notebooks as detailed in Speaking of Journals.
Becoming Part of a Writing CommunityIn her chapter about building a community of writers, Colleen Cruz discusses various types of student groupings. A class is described as a colony of writers. A salon is described as a permanent or semi-permanent group of six to eight student writers. A writing club is a temporary grouping focused on solving a particular topic or problem. Partnerships may be temporary or year-long. New to me was the idea of seminars, where groups of three to eight students ask the teacher to give a specific lesson on a particular topic. After the seminars, students leave with new information and new mentor texts that help them address their particular needs.