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The Benefits of Writing Into the Day for a Whole Year

By Den'ja Pommarane
 | Sep 20, 2018

Healing Through WritingDon't get me wrong. I value the importance of writing in my classroom. The work we do with students to prepare them for the next step (college or career) is paramount. We teach students to write the persuasive, the expository, the narrative. We support students with word choice, syntax, organization, ideas, and conventions. We help students patch the bleeding words, sometimes playing the role of the Civil War surgeon, lopping off paragraphs like limbs destroyed by bayonets. To me, high school writing is a high stakes game with little time for “playing” out of bounds.

With Writing Into the Day, I felt like I was in a battle with time. Just 185 days to take my students to the next level, essential learnings and short cycles, assisting them to reach their highest potential. If I found a cool quote in a book or a moral issue that related to the lesson, then we would spend some time free writing. Otherwise, Writing Into the Day was benched; fated to ride the pine with the other third-string activities and practices that had flowed through the threshold of my mind. The notion of writing for writing’s sake, to let go and see where the mind and pen takes you, appealed to me, but I didn't know how I was going to let go of the precious and limited time I had with these students to ensure the curriculum was covered and the students met the proficiency levels of the standards.

It wasn't until after spending the summer of 2017 with the Wyoming Writing Project that I resolved to include Writing Into the Day as a part of my classroom's daily routine. I decided I would spend the 2017–2018 school year committed to this practice with my ninth-grade English and American literature classes. Today, as I reflect on the school year, I can't deny the positive impact Writing Into the Day had on my classes.

Writing Into the Day is an activity where students spend a slice of time (usually seven to 10 minutes) writing at the beginning of the period. Writing topics sometimes differ from the lessons and goals of the day’s curriculum. At first, I worried it was going to be a waste of time or that the students would view it as an opportunity to mess around on their phones and chat with each other. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about.

In the beginning, prompts were informational and low risk. For example, a prompt might ask students to write about their favorite season or their least favorite food. I found that starting with these more accessible prompts helped students build the confidence to eventually share their writing. I never mandated that students had to read aloud their work every day or that they had to adhere to the prompt. Sometimes, the prompts weren’t meaningful to them or they had something more pressing on their mind—maybe they had failed a math test the period before English or had a fight with their parents the previous night and needed time and space to process. Their Writing Into the Day might have taken a whole different direction, perhaps for the better. At times, this practice became a form of catharsis. It allowed students to explore their feelings in a safe, constructive manner.

By the end of the year, students wrote about their personal thoughts and feelings. As the students learned more about each other and made meaningful connections, we created a classroom environment that embodied empathy, compassion, and understanding. 

I recall many times when Writing Into the Day sparked an interest in writing outside of the classroom, but two incidents stand out in my mind. The first occurrence happened in mid-October. A student raised his hand and said he had not been writing to the prompt that day, but rather was continuing his work on a short story he started over the weekend. He asked if he could share an excerpt with the class. As he started reading aloud the murder scene, complete with blood spatter, shell casings, and red and blue lights, I watched my students slide forward and lean in on their seats. He had hooked them. Upon finishing the excerpt, the class asked for more. He refused, saying it was still a work in progress. His eyes lit up and a smile stretched across his face as his classmates groaned in disappointment. During that moment, Writing Into the Day provided an audience for my students and acted as a bellows to intensify their burning desire to write.              

Another time, a student chose to write a poem about finals week and the end of the school year. The prompt asked students to discuss strategies they had in place to study and how to end the school year strong. She didn't share that day, but two days later, she handed me a poem. It described her brain as oatmeal and her knowledge running through her fingers like sand through a sieve. Being a freshman, she had encapsulated her feelings about finals and ending the school year in a poem that was not required for the class.

I feel that Writing Into the Day built my credibility as a teacher, writer, and friend of my students. Too often as teachers, we compartmentalize ourselves. Students see teachers as a source of knowledge, a sort of gatekeeper to our content and a “giver” of grades and little else. Through my experience last year, I found Writing Into the Day became the great equalizer. The practice gave me an opportunity to write side-by-side with my students. When I modeled my own writing process (including the mistakes, struggles, and insecurities) and demonstrated vulnerability, I found that my students did too.

By no means was Writing Into the Day a "magic bullet." It took practice and patience to achieve the classroom culture both students and I wanted and deserved. Reflecting on the 2017–18 school year makes me place it on the shelf with some of the greatest years I've had as an educator. I believe that Writing Into the Day played an integral part in this success.

Den'ja Pommarane is an ELA teacher at Laramie High School in Wyoming. 

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