How to Celebrate Writing in Your School

One school I used to teach in was heavily focused on writing. Write up my alley! (Pun intended). I was experienced at coaching teachers and presenting workshops and model lessons to help schools improve their writing instruction, so I was really excited when our school chose to focus on writing.

Teachers were working hard to learn new instructional strategies and activities that focused on genre study. Many teachers had never even used the word “genre” with their students before. Imagine that!

We made great strides with our students and the progress was remarkably quick. I remember how rewarding it was to stop any student in the hallway and they could instantly tell me what genre they were studying in class. Exciting!

Then it dawned on me. We were all working so hard to improve our writing, in every corner of the school, but we weren’t stopping to celebrate writing.

Celebrating writing in a community of writers is one of the most important ingredients to writing success.

So I approached the staff with an idea. How about a Writer’s Festival? Nothing too fancy, but a way to celebrate exceptional achievement in writing and pat ourselves on the back a bit. The staff was in and I was ready to roll up my sleeves.

A small group of us gathered to give input and make some decisions. We decided to host a contest of sorts in which any student was eligible to participate. Teachers chose two genre categories for their students to compete in (genres they had already studied together in class) and students could enter in one of the categories.

The rules were simple: one entry per student, one page double-spaced, 12 point or 14 Times font, and the work must be completed in class. We wanted to level the playing field a bit and avoid too much over-helping at home, so students had to complete their entry from start to finish in class. However, teachers and peers were allowed to help as part of our writer’s workshop process.

Teachers helped students publish their pieces in the computer lab and we saved them on our all-school drive for easy access and printing later on. Saving them on the drive also meant they were date and time stamped so we knew entries were received on time. I printed every entry (there were 300!) and organized them for teachers to do a scoring session.

Every entry was read by two different teachers. 100 entries were chosen to receive “Outstanding!” ribbons and one entry per category was chosen as “Best in Genre”.

We mounted the entries on butcher paper and hung them around the gym for everyone to enjoy at Back to School Night. Students were so excited to have their work read by so many people and the ribbons were just icing on the cake.

It was most certainly a worthwhile celebration! In my opinion, the most rewarding outcome was the special recognition students received. Winning a ribbon is not what matters most, but who won those ribbons was remarkable. We had students from all walks of life who were singled out for their achievement. Many, many students received ribbons who had never won a ribbon before. At least half of our ribbons were awarded to English learners and children of low socioeconomic status. Of that I am particularly proud!