by Letty Rising
Follow the Trillium Montessori Talks podcast
While many teacher training programs do a brilliant job at introducing the Montessori materials, it can often be the case that whatever is offered as the approach to writing with elementary children isn’t as robust or comprehensive. As a result, teachers often enter the class not sure about where to start in terms of teaching writing, or even how to set up a prepared environment for writing.
Many teachers get off on the right foot by creating an environment where there is freedom to write. And this is so important because we get better at doing something when we practice, so offering an environment where children can write often, on a variety of topics, and using a variety of writing skills and techniques, will be good way to begin their development in writing.
Writing can be embedded into all areas of Cosmic Education, making for a classroom rich with researching and writing. However, you will want to do other things to set up an environment brimming with writing! When considering your environment, you’ll want to ask yourself the following questions:
Are you creating opportunities for children to write every day?
Offering a 2.5-3 hour work cycle will ensure that children have time to write every day. When the day is broken up into sections as is true in most traditional settings, there isn’t an easy way for students to write frequently and consistently. In addition to the opportunity to write freely on topics of interest, you will create opportunities by embedding writing lessons into your lesson planning so that students have time to write with you as the guide and model in best practices.
Are you laying the groundwork for an emotionally safe learning environment where students feel comfortable taking risks?
Writing is not only putting thoughts to paper, it’s also putting feelings onto paper. Our thoughts and our feelings can feel very personal…they can be attacked, scoffed at and ridiculed, to name a few. How many people resist penning their personal opinions to social media posts for this same reason?
Knowing this, it’s important that the teacher set up a climate that feels safe for writing. This can be accomplished in various ways, including the following:
- Have a class meeting and talk about vulnerability in writing, and establish norms that include students speaking kindly about the writing of others. Share ways to give feedback that are useful and effective, while also respectful and reverent.
- Model vulnerability by reading the writing of others that includes their own personal thoughts and feelings.
- Read your own writing that shares personal thoughts and feelings.
- Encourage students who feel confident in doing so, to share their writing aloud.
Are you connecting writing with student interests?
Writing in isolation, just for the sake of writing, is not nearly as engaging or effective as is writing that involves student interests. While as a teacher you may be working with your students on specific kinds of writing genres, such as biographies or persuasive essays, it’s important that you allow numerous opportunities for children to choose the content of their writing. They get to choose the heroes they want to write about. They get to choose what topics they feel passionate about to argue for and against.
Are you offering relevant, real-world opportunities to write?
Anyone who has worked with elementary students for a length of time will know that they tend to want to engage in activities that have relevance or meaning to them. While a child of ages 3-6 in a Montessori classroom will often be seen repeating the same thing over and over, such as washing a table, an elementary child will not want to wash a table just for the sake of washing a table. They have to have a reason: they want to sit at that table and have a snack, there is a special event planned and they noticed the table was dirty, they were asked to do so as a collaborative community effort to keep the environment pristine.
This desire to engage in meaningful work translates into writing. Again, writing for the sake of learning a skill is much less interesting than writing to the museum to ask the docent a question about the latest dinosaur exhibit, or writing a letter to their favorite entertainer, or creating a recipe book filled with favorite recipes, or writing a persuasive note to the principal about what kinds of new playground equipment the school should buy.
In addition, your class or school might have a history night, or a science fair night, or a student showcase, where your students can present a research report for an audience. These real-world experiences are all motivators!
Are you exposing them to various kinds of writing?
Some children are drawn to fictional or narrative type writing. Others love research and report writing. Still others aren’t fond of either, but love poetry. Some children enjoy writing letters or making lists. Others only enjoy graphic comic writing. If you have a student who doesn’t seem inspired by writing, have you shown them the wide range and types of writing that they can engage in?
Are you embedding writing into the content you present?
So many Montessori teachers, particularly public Montessori teachers who feel an additional pressure to cover everything that will be addressed in standardized testing, often feel compelled to place greater emphasis on reading, writing, and mathematics, at the exclusion of the other topics that are not assessed in standardized measures. When this happens, the Montessori environment becomes limited, and the children do not get to experience the full range of Cosmic Education.
However, embedding writing lessons and activities into Cosmic Education provides a win-win! You can embed lessons on paragraphs, topic sentences, stylistic techniques, and more, using the knowledge and information students are exposed to in the areas of history, biology, geography, and more!
Are you giving targeted, specific writing lessons on certain skills?
As was touched upon above, while offering children opportunities to write in volume will help them grow as writers, inviting them to writing lessons that target specific skills and techniques will help them reach even greater heights in regards to written expression.
You’ll want to seed their writing experiences with lessons that help them create expansive sentences with colorful adjectives and varied word choices, which help them be able to express themselves more clearly and with greater detail. Just like all things Montessori, the writing environment needs to be supported by offering specific writing lessons to increase writing fluency.
Have you thought about the revision process in your classroom and what that looks like?
Along with setting up the conditions to write and offering ample time for writing, you will want to think about what the children are going to “do” with their writing. While editing and revising every single piece of writing can suck the joy right out of writing, never editing and revising work is a missed opportunity to elevate student writing, along with getting them accustomed to being on the giving and receiving end of constructive feedback, which is an experience that can begin in the elementary years.
You’ll want to consider the following:
- How often do I want students to revise work?
- How is what is revised chosen? Do students get to choose? Are there specific assignments tied to lessons that teachers would like to see revised.
- How does revision happen? Teacher revision? Collaboration between teacher and student? Peer revision?
Do you offer opportunities for collaborative writing experiences in your classroom?
One of the psychological characteristics of the elementary child is that they don’t like to work in silos. They want to work with their classmates so that they can discuss, negotiate, debate, collaborate, and engage in all of the myriad of verbal interactions that come with this age.
Let your students write together, and write often. This might mean them sitting together and talking about their writing as they each write their own story, report, biography, and etc. Or it might mean that they collaborate in a shared writing experience. This gives them the opportunity to make decisions with each other on who is responsible for what part, so they are also engaging in practical life and executive function skills while they are at it! Collaborative work is often more fun than work done alone, so be sure to suggest collaborative writing to your students whenever possible.
Are you a joyful model of the writing process yourself?
Do you write in the classroom? When you give lessons, do you model a writing technique by talking through your mental process aloud so that children can hear your thought process? Do they see you writing letters, do you share poems you’ve written or short stories, and are you also modeling interest and enthusiasm? As Haim Ginott says, it’s your daily mood that makes the weather, and if you are excited about something your students will be excited, too.
Writing is a complex process that involves a lot of different skills. This can cause some children to be reluctant writers. However, keeping in your conscious mind the varying strategies you can employ in your classroom to make writing appealing to all children will help you create an environment brimming with writing.
Letty Rising has been involved in Montessori education for over 15 years. She holds a B.A. in Sociology, a California State Teaching Credential, and an AMI elementary diploma for ages 6-12 and an M.Ed from Loyola University in Maryland. She has held positions as a Homeschool Education Specialist, Montessori Elementary Teacher, School Director, Principal, Montessori Coordinator, and Consultant in several public and private Montessori school communities throughout the years. Letty currently supports schools around the world through professional development offerings, consulting, and mentoring.