How Celebration Is Compromising Young Writers and One Way You Can Change This

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miranda7

Traditional writing workshop sessions often end like this: writers showcase their successes, volunteers read slices of their works in progress, and the group celebrates their love of words with plentiful applause.

For a long time, I thought this was a wonderful tradition. After all, it typically left my young writers feeling great about their efforts and closer to one another. As years have passed, I’ve had a chance to participate in many such celebrations in different classrooms with very different kinds of writers though, and it’s prompted me to rethink the way I wrap writer’s workshop. I’ve come to value exhibition far more than celebration as a result.

Here’s why: celebrations are typically teacher prompted events. The structure is predictable, and audiences don’t have to engage deeply or even honestly in order to celebrate. They simply listen, congratulate, and applaud. Initially, writers demonstrate some level of pride as people validate their work, but eventually, this dissipates.

It’s hard to feel genuinely proud of ourselves when everyone is celebrated, when celebrations become routine, and when the only response that writers receive is applause. This is why I encourage young writers to end their workshop sessions with a bit of exhibition rather than celebration.

Interested in creating opportunities for exhibition? Be prepared to facilitate these shifts:

  • Focus on learning. When we celebrate, we share a victory, we read a bit of our writing, and we cheer one another on. When we exhibit, we share our thinking, we make it visible to an audience, and we inspire curiosity. The purpose is learning rather than validating. In my experience, writers who participate in exhibitions report higher levels of pride and an eagerness to revisit their work in order to make it even better.
  • Showcase process and skill. Celebration tends to place value on the products that writers create. When writers exhibit, they showcase specific processes or skills. They share in order to reflect, debrief, and help others learn, often from imperfect works in progress.  When writers share their growing expertise, they begin turning to one another for support rather than relying exclusively on the teacher.
  • Underscore perseverance. Celebration often covers up the trouble, struggle, and uncertainty that writers persevered through on their way to finish products. Exhibition does not deny these realities but instead, illuminates and normalizes them. All writers begin to recognize struggle as a part of the writing experience rather than an indication that they are failing to become good writers. Once kids become comfortable with struggle, they’re often more willing to take on even greater writing challenges.
  • Make it interactive. Celebration allows audiences to be a bit more passive than exhibition does. We want writers to wonder about, question, and experiment with the approaches that others share. Exhibition makes time and space for this important work, and it enables everyone–students and teachers alike–to reap the rewards of powerful assessment practices.

I’m wondering how you would prepare young writers to exhibit their thinking, their process, and their works in progress? How would you prepare audiences to engage meaningfully with those who choose to share?

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.
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