Big Six 1 – Creation

My 9th grade social studies teacher told me, very early on in my 9th grade year, to “write and I will be right.” That was twenty four years ago, and I’m still struggling to plumb the depths of that comment. But he was, ahem, right. Writing, or more broadly, composition, is how we come to understand the world, each other, and ourselves. Making meaning comes from making things. When I get lost or confused or curious, I generally suppose that it’s time for me to get to making something.

Composition should happen all the time in the language arts classroom. Creation should be a habit, not an event, and should occur for a variety of reasons and purposes, for a number of different audiences, and because many different folks decided a thing should get made.

When it comes to creation in your classroom, here are several relevant questions to consider:

  • What gets made?
  • For what purpose(s)?
  • Directed by whom?
  • Using what authentic tools?

In my classroom, I often directed students to write at the start of each class period. I know many teachers who do something similar. But I also required multiple large scale pieces and products throughout a learning experience. I wonder what small scale and large scale compositions are happening in your classrooms as a result of this project. I’ll describe some reflective purposes of your compositions in a future big six post.

Were I teaching right now, I’d be more focused on the journaling/composing as a habit of learning rather than on the larger projects themselves.

I’d also be exploring more of ways that students could compose that weren’t as text-focused as many of my journaling exercises. While I’d allow students to sketch or draw in response to a journal prompt, I’m thinking that was far too limited. Video, photo and other graphical means of composition would be in play for me, as well as audio.

There are certainly questions of assessment tied up in expanding what counts as composition in the classroom, but those questions should come after, or maybe alongside, but definitely not before, students are immersed in the habits of composition. A Compose Our World classroom most definitely involves a big pile of composition.

What composition habits are alive and well in your classrooms? Who decides what gets made, and when, and for what purposes? And what tools are involved in that composition work? And who gets to see what students make? How are observers able to participate in the classroom composition ecosystem?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


February 2016
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  1. Shawn Jaworski
    March 4, 2016

    Thanks for the post, Bud. This really has a lot to do with the work we’ve been doing in my classroom for The Singularity. For the past two years, every student in every one of my classes does a journal response as the first thing when they walk in. Recently, I’ve seen the power of these short composition activities. Often, what I think is just sort of an interesting question that connects to the content of the day turns into a half-hour intensive discussion. One recent example was asking my 9th graders what they thought about parent-teacher conferences leading up to that event the following day. They got really fired up, talking about the value of the conferences and how their parents’ expectations are often unreasonable. They also asked why they aren’t necessarily encouraged to go to the conferences, if they’re supposed to be “owning their education” like I always preach to them. I won’t go into all the cool stuff they learned in this conversation; I’ll just say that it was completely unexpected that it would take a third of my class time to discuss what I thought to be a pretty mundane prompt.

    I only realized recently, in my discussions with COW researchers, that I truly am creating a “habit of learning” as you call it. No one, not even the most unmotivated of my students, complains about having to write every day in my class. That alone shows me that by this point in the year, it is truly just a habit. Many begin writing before the “bell to learn” actually rings. The other thing that journaling has shown me is that in composing the prompt for the day, I’m really composing my lesson. Sometimes it’s hard to come up with a relevant and interesting question, but those prompts that take me a little more time to figure out always enrich my own understanding of the day’s learning. I think a huge part of the value of short, daily composition is that it teaches students that writing is living. Composition is not something someone does once for a number grade and walks away. Composition is how we interact with the tough questions of life; and the more we compose, the better we understand ourselves.

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