When Writers Make

Integrating making with writing at the WNY Young Writers’ Studio has completely transformed our learning and work. Whether we’re writing about the things that we make or making our way around writer’s block, each time kids put down their pens and back away from their devices long enough to build, unexpected and incredibly rewarding things happen.

For instance, those who claim to hate writing often find promising pathways toward it. When kids are building things that intrigue them, writing is just another way to share their procedures with friends who might want to replicate them. When they discover solutions to problems that are plaguing many others, they’re eager to make claims and support them with evidence. The things they build don’t disappear the moment they put their tools away for the day, either. They live on in their imaginations, serving as catalysts for new ideas and as the elements of powerful stories that they may plan to write.

These weren’t connections I intended to discover when we began tinkering with textiles and other craft materials years ago, but it’s one I’m grateful to have recognized. Every time a parent or teacher raves about what we do at Studio, I’m careful to credit my sources, too: My students make me a better teacher every time I work with them–particularly those who are most likely to resist writing entirely.

I like sharing the ideas we’re testing at Studio. Unlike most teachers, I’m alone in my organization and in my work, and I learn a lot by seeking feedback. When I show colleagues how writers use our tinker trays, explain how design thinking inspired me to overhaul my traditional mini-lesson structure, or speak to the importance of reflection and practical ways to approach it, I know my ideas are appreciated even as my friends in the field speak to how they might adapt them. Every one of us seems to be confronting a unique set of opportunities and challenges. We aren’t interested in lifting best practices and dropping them into our classrooms. We enjoy chewing on good questions, though–especially those that help us define the stones in our shoes.

Here’s one that follows me around everywhere I go: “What happens when students become so consumed by what they’re making that they don’t want to write at all?” 

That struggle is too real, and because I’m not certain whether I have the best perspective or solutions to offer, I give you this post. Please…..push my thinking?

Ensuring that Makers Write

If we were talking about what happens in dedicated makerspaces, the content of this post would be quite different. After all, makerspaces are designed especially for making, while writing workshops are dedicated to the pursuit of writing. It makes sense that as a writing teacher, I feel a certain level of responsibility for making words happen. That’s why making is a means to a very specific end in my world.

Here’s how we try to ensure that making inspires our writing time rather than replacing it entirely:

1. First, we dedicate time for making at the outset of every writing unit. Whole days are set aside for purposeful building. The things we produce become catalysts for our writing. Sometimes, they are added to our mentor text sets as well. Interested in scooping up some strategies to support this sort of work? Stop back soon. I’ll be blogging about some of them next.

2. Sometimes, I frame making as a challenge that comes with time limits, too. I love how Dan Ryder uses “How might we?” as a creative catalyst in his classroom. When I use it in my own workshops, I typically combine it with time limits that protect our writing block. “How might we use the materials in this tinker tray and the next five minutes to build a setting that could also function as a character?” I’ll ask. Then, I’ll set a timer and encourage them to “Go!”

3. Finally, I try to model how writing inspires making and how making inspires writing as often as I can. Sometimes, I use my own work or the work of well-known makers and published writers, but I typically find it’s more productive to showcase the work of the writers in our room and in our local community. Often, the best learning happens when we choose mentors who are just a few paces ahead of us rather than relying on the examples that experts set for us.

These approaches inspire meaningful making without compromising our writing time, and while I’m happy to share them with you, I can’t help but wonder what feedback you might provide.

Is it possible for making to impede writing?

Is it necessary to set boundaries and establish a bit of control?

Share your thoughts here, on Facebook or on Twitter.

I’m truly interested in thinking and talking about this more.





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