How We Can Celebrate Every Student as a Writer

Celebrating Writers: From Possibilities through Publication
By Ruth Ayres with Christi Overman
(Stenhouse Publishers, 2013 – Learn more)

kevin-hodgsonReviewed by Kevin Hodgson

You can almost hear the funky riffs of Kool & The Gang’s Celebration in the background as you read through this short, engaging book about the value of noticing the small moments of classroom life and cheering on students as emerging writers. Ruth Ayres, with Christi Overman, provides an approachable framework for how we can open up possibilities for publishing student work, from within our interior walls and through the larger opportunities represented by the World Wide Web.

celebrating-writersEarly on, the authors delineate the difference between publication and celebration, shifting the focus right to the moments of an individual’s growth when they put pen to paper for whatever they are writing. “Publication is part of the writing process,” Ayres and Overman contend. “Celebration is part of the life of the writer.”

The book provides some clear and powerful ways to recognize the writer in all students, even those reluctant ones. In fact, Celebrating Writers begins with a memorable vignette about one boy who struggles to find his writing voice. It took not only guidance, but also patience, and a series of small “celebrations” of his movements forward to finally reach him. The celebrations were recognizable moments of growth, and a positive sharing experience within the classroom.

The book is packed with examples of graphic organizers (for students and for teachers) and helpful tips on how to establish a positive writing environment in the classroom, with many entry points for all kinds of writers on the spectrum. (Most of the organizers and handouts are available for download at the publisher’s site, too.)

Ayres and Overman also share many examples of how to celebrate growth and success. I like how the focus here moved from informal celebratory moments — perhaps as simple as constructing a strong paragraph — to more formal events — like connecting to the community or families.

There is even a handy list of 40 formal celebratory ideas, grouped by “I need a formal celebration idea for tomorrow” to “I have plenty of time to plan a formal celebration.” These ideas range from poetry jams, notebook celebrations and toasting writers (with juice!) to campfire celebrations, family writing workshops and performances.

We have a choice about how we unfold . . .

Ayres ends the book with a personal story about her own family, and her adoption of three very young children. She relates how she tells her children that we all have choices about how a day will unfold, and those decisions impact the tenor of our interactions with others. In this day of educational mandates and standardized testing, she reminds us, this approach to how we view the world is also true for teachers.

In the face of so much need, we can make a choice to celebrate. There will always be an error, a refusal, an inadequate paragraph. Student writing will never be perfect. We live among the mess. We can choose to wallow in the doom. Or we can choose joy. I will always choose joy. I suspect you will, too. (p.88)

Yes, indeed.

Kevin Hodgson is a sixth grade teacher in Southampton, Massachusetts, and is the technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Kevin blogs regularly at Kevin’s Meandering Mind and tweets more often than is healthy under his @dogtrax handle. He also blogs about the ELA classroom here at MiddleWeb.

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