I love encouraging students to think about their definition of “writing”. I currently work with pre-service teachers and we discuss this in class often. But, even when I was working with young elementary students I would talk with them about what it meant to be a writer and what writing looked like. In schools we tend to value a written composition, using pencil and paper, with a clear and predictable structure. My students, not surprisingly, also defined writing in this way. I sought out ways to broaden their definition of writing.
The best success I had in this endeavor was to replace the standard state report with multi-genre projects. Instead of providing a graphic organizer to create an informational report, I provided my students with a menu from which they had to choose at least five ways to display their learning. This menu included choices like creating a comic strip, creating an acrostic poem, writing a rap, writing new lyrics to a well-known song, and scripting a podcast or news report.
Using multi-genre projects had so many benefits. My students who usually left the room for special education support during writing could stay and be supported in a variety of text generating activities. My students demonstrated a much deeper understanding of their state’s unique facts. Perhaps most importantly, my students’ definition of writing was broadened and they saw themselves as writers, some for the very first time.
I still utilize multi-genre projects with my pre-service teachers at the end of each semester. They are engaged and motivated to display their learning and they see a model for teaching and assessing that they can utilize in their future classroom. They learn that writing can take many forms and is ultimately about communicating meaning. I hope that they will one day challenge their students to broaden the definition of “writing” and create a community of writers.
Amy Spiker is a Senior Lecturer in Elementary Education and a former elementary teacher. She can be found on Twitter @abethspiker. Her blog is located at wyomingwritingproject.blogspot.com.