National Writing Project

An Opportunity on Elm Street

By: Brett Stonebrick
Publication: Turning Points in Teaching: Narrative Reflection on Professional Practice
Date: 2001

Summary: Brett Stonebrick, a teacher-consultant with the Oregon Writing Project at the University of Willamette, describes a breakthrough that occurred in his thinking about student-generated topics when he opened up to the desire of an uncooperative and underperforming first-grader to discuss and write about a slasher movie.



Demanding that my students write about my topics means missing out on one of the most wonderful parts of being a second grade teacher. During writing, what was once one idea is now twenty-five. On any given day of writer's workshop, children may be writing letters, poetry, animal reports, recipes, and fairy tales. To the untrained eye it may seem like chaos; to mine it's harmony. Our writing journals are always available to the student who doesn't have a story to write at the moment, just thoughts and feelings. Also, I've created a take-home journal in which my students communicate with their parents. Parents respond by writing in the journal and returning it to school.

The harmony of the writer's workshop doesn't come without a price. We must spend a lot of time early in the school year developing the writing genres and creating a strong foundation of responsibility and independence. Managing the writer's workshop is maddening if you're alone. Every person in the room, regardless of height, should share the responsibility.

About the Author Brett Stonebrink taught first and second grade at Englewood Elementary School in Salem, Oregon. In 2000 he participated in the summer institute of the Oregon Writing Project at Willamette.

Copyright © 2001. Reprinted with permission from Willamette University.
Stonebrink, Brett. 2001."An Opportunity on Elm Street." Turning Points in Teaching: Narrative Reflection on Professional Practice: 24–27.

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