Writing When It’s Hard. Or School Should be Out Already.

Let me just say how cruel the school calendar is this year:  We have school through noon Wednesday. Kids are beyond crazy. Last Friday is typically the last school day before break, so it feels a bit like we are making up snow days for snow days that haven’t happened. It’s cold. And no one is going to want to be at school for the next three days. No one.

I’ve been toying with this post all morning. I don’t feel like writing. I just want to shop with my daughters who arrived in town over the weekend, and tend my five month old grandson who came to visit yesterday, and maybe bake some bread pudding in the crock pot. I do not want to write.

So what do I do to get myself to put words on the page? What do I do when I need students to want to put words on the page?

I look for inspiration. I help them find inspiration.

Lately, my students have been writing spoken word poems as arguments. They chose personal or social issues they care about, and they’ve crafted drafts that argue a position about their issues. Some are digging deep and writing with wondrous words. Others — not so much. But I’m not giving up.

I’ve learned that three things will help my writers when they sink low and cannot seem to rise back up. I must consistently —

Flood the room with beautiful language. In a spoken word poetry unit, this is easy. We watch a performance on YouTube most every day. “Spelling Father” by Marshall Davis-Jones is a new favorite. (I love the narrative frame and raw emotion in this piece.) If our goal is to help develop writers who intentionally craft meaning, we have to help students intentionally craft meaning. The more we recognize, analyze, and model the moves of writers, the easier writing with intention becomes.

Allow time for thinking. Waiting on students to think their way into writing can be hard. But I know that writing takes time, and when I rush students who haven’t had a chance to think about their ideas before they begin writing, the finished pieces rarely get the revision they need to be truly effective. Don Murray said, “Writing is self exposure.” It is. And the vulnerability can be immobilizing for some of us. Giving time and then waiting for students to make decisions about their writing pays off on the back end of the writing process. If we truly value student ideas, we have to give them the time to think of them.

Talk to students and keep them talking to one another. One-on-one conferences are a good idea any time, but during a writing unit, conferring time is essential. In large classes, we may have to stagger our live conferences with paper ones, and leave conferring questions, and “I wonders” on their pages. More than anything, students must know we are reading their drafts and offering feedback. I am working on getting faster at leaving quick notes. I find that when I zero in on one skill at a time students find my feedback a lot less intimidating (which is something I had to learn was even a thing.)


Martina’s writing her poem about her culture. “I’m too white to be called Mexican, but I’m a Mexican.”

My plan for this week is to put these three things on a replay loop. We’ll start class with beautiful language, think and write and write and think — all the while talking to one another about our process and our craft.

We may just make it to Christmas break a little bit merry after all.

If you are still in school this week, what’s happening in your classrooms? Please share in the comments.






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12 thoughts on “Writing When It’s Hard. Or School Should be Out Already.

  1. […] didn’t post 9 Books to Hook Your Holdouts for nothing. Amy had the Tissue Issue and needed to Write When It Was Hard.  Jessica is finding her way in a brand new workshop classroom. And countless sources across the […]


  2. […] this week, Amy wrote about writing when it’s hard. She spoke of filling the room with beautiful language, getting kids to keep talking with one […]


  3. Shana Karnes December 21, 2016 at 8:09 am Reply

    Amy, I’m excited that today is your last day of school (by the time I got around to commenting on this post, haha). I hope your day is filled with reading WONDERFUL student work and WONDERFUL books in your spare time, and hopefully another WONDERFUL lunch with your colleagues.

    Know why I keep using that word? Because YOU ARE WONDERFUL!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Michelle Pembroke December 19, 2016 at 10:06 pm Reply

    I would love to hear Martina’s final piece! Her writing always made me smile when she was a precious, brilliant freshman!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Margaret Egler December 19, 2016 at 11:57 am Reply

    Thank you, Amy, for pushing through and writing this morning. I love the spoken word as argument. I wonder how you help them craft their argument with help from outside sources? I think I had a huge wake up call for evaluating sources after the election.


    • ML December 19, 2016 at 2:11 pm Reply

      That’s a great idea. I’d love to work together on something like this.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ML December 19, 2016 at 10:46 am Reply

    I am so with you here although it’s too bad as I’m still in the writer’s workshop honeymoon period! I had saved personal narratives until the end, and I’m enjoying getting to know my students better. I hope they are enjoying this as well. So far, so good!

    I also plan to teach the poem “Kindness” and have them do random acts of kindness tomorrow. Did I get that idea from here or somewhere else?


    • ML December 19, 2016 at 10:47 am Reply

      It should say, it’s NOT too bad….

      Liked by 1 person

    • Shana Karnes December 21, 2016 at 8:08 am Reply

      It’s never “too bad” to be in the honeymoon period of workshop! I’m in it all the time when I say, “oh crap this isn’t working, better throw it out and start over with something workshop-ish!!” haha. Merry Christmas, ML!


      • ML December 21, 2016 at 9:30 am Reply

        Merry Christmas to you too! All my coworkers are ready for break, but I’ve been on cloud nine with workshopping!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Lisa Dennis December 19, 2016 at 7:46 am Reply

    Ruth, that is a wonderful idea. With a three year old at home, I can attest to the fact that even the little ones know what they want you to know about them. Amy, this post made me smile. We’re in school through Thursday. Extra reading time all around. Merry, merry!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ruth December 19, 2016 at 7:01 am Reply

    Amy, I so admire you as a teacher and inspiration. Had I only had you; as well as, many of the wonderful professionals I’ve met, especially @ Frost, I know I would have felt more confident about my writing ability. When I was still teaching full-time, I asked this question kindergarten through grade 6: What do you wish other people knew about me? Even my present K’s and 1st”s have things they want others to know about.

    Liked by 2 people

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