Make Writing – Intelligence at Play
I believe that we were created to create. Genesis 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning, God created…” and then goes on to say in verse 27 that “God created mankind in his own image,” which, in my opinion, includes the desire and ability to generate ideas, design, and produce amazing things. We have an innate desire within each of us that longs to participate in ‘making’. The outpouring of our original thought brings great satisfaction and a feeling of pride. It is exhilarating to watch the whispered secrets in our heart and mind come to life and become something tangible that can be shared. The classroom is an ideal environment for this creating to happen.
However, creating doesn’t always come easily to every student. Especially, when it involves writing. There are several barriers that can inhibit a child from wanting to express their ideas in this way. It may be that they don’t feel like their ideas have value to an audience; they simply don’t have the vocabulary and spelling knowledge to feel confident; they are intimidated by the blank page in front of them and the expectation to fill it.
Over the past few months one of our inquiries has been the importance of play in the classroom. Seeing a student struggling to write down their thoughts does not look much like play! It looks like a lot of hard work. For many students it is so overwhelming that they give up before there is one word written.
How can we transform challenging work into something playful?
This fall, a few of my colleagues and I were fortunate to spend a day with other teachers in the valley at a Make Writing workshop with Angela Stockman. Angela is the founder of the WNY Young Writers Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional design, coaching and assessment. Angela has devoted her time to researching ways that help struggling writers to engage and begin to share their creativity with their world. The strategies we learned that day inspired us to want to change our methods of teaching so that all students feel empowered to share their ideas in a meaningful and manageable way.
Make Writing – How to use play to showcase intelligence?
At the Make Writing workshop there was a container in the center of each of our tables filled with a variety of little objects – acorns, sticks, stones, toothpicks, beads, Lego bricks, playdough. It peaked curiosity and a great deal of excitement when Angela finally invited us to use the objects to create something to represent an invitation that we had received. I’m not sure I have ever seen so many adults excited about opening containers of playdough! There was no hesitation. Everyone began to reach for objects, forming their abstract ideas and memories into something concrete in front of them. No one looked around for ideas or seemed to wonder, “What should I make?” They all dove in and began to “play”.
When this strategy has been used in our classrooms, the results have been the same, with students of all ages. Within seconds of thinking about the task, they begin reaching for objects and arranging them on their desks or tables in front of them. Uninhibited by the challenge – they begin to ‘make’ symbols that remind them of an experience or represent an idea.
How can we incorporate play and still meet the curriculum demands and maintain high expectations and rigor?
Angela did not leave our task at simply making something with playdough. From this initial “build” the adults in the room that day were asked to write down phrases and thoughts about how this invitation made them feel. Again – no hesitation. One of the reasons was that the request seemed manageable. They were given sticky notes to write on. The topic was personal. Everyone in attendance was able to write words about their memory and how it made them feel. From these few words, ideas were sparked and stories began to unfold.
The initial “build” made the abstract ideas alive. It reignited emotions that were once felt. It seemed easy to write about feelings and tell stories in short phrases on small notepads. These phrases were put together, moved around, added to, discussed with peers and ideas for paragraphs and essays were born.
Our students are experiencing the same empowerment as we invite them to participate in these kinds of writing experiences. Even the most reluctant writers are able (and very willing) to capture their ideas and express them through this process. The work, that was at one time overwhelming and daunting, transforms into a playful experience that results in eager participation.
The students do not hesitate to write their ideas on the notes. They welcome talking about their creation and ideas with others. They feel free to make choices about their writing form as they move the notes around and order them in they way that they want to share their thoughts. They extend their vocabulary by building on each other’s ideas.
They create. They ignite. They produce. They edit. They share. They empower.
They show their intelligence through “play”.
With Love in Learning,
Mrs. Draper, WA Educator + Instructional Coach