It had been an intense day of finishing the rough drafts of our memoirs. My students were really putting themselves on the page, and I had been moved nearly to tears as I leaned over their shoulders to read their drafts. Jose’s memoir about losing his dog had stopped me in my tracks, and Megan’s memoir about learning how to slide into a base in softball had given me goose bumps. Sure, there were some grammatical and mechanical errors in their writing. Sure, we still had some work to do as writers of memoirs. But this first round of writing was beautiful and heartfelt and true. They had poured themselves out onto the page in the bravest of ways.
There are many ways for students to share and reflect on their writing at the end of workshop time. The possibilities seem infinite: do a gallery walk, share with a partner, interview a student about their process, look at a student sample, write a silent reflection, make an anchor chart. The list could go on. Although I am normally very intentional about planning how we will share, on this particular day I was . . . um . . . less intentional. Fine: I was totally winging it.
I knew the kids had written beautiful, hard, true things about themselves on their papers and Chromebooks. And I knew these beautiful, hard, true things had to be heard. I asked the class to meet me on the carpet with their writing, and we sat in a large circle so everyone could see everyone else. I asked the students to find an excerpt—a word, a phrase, a line, a sentence, a paragraph—to read aloud. We were going to fill the room with beautiful words. These words wouldn’t be the words of published authors, like Katie Wood Ray suggested in her book Woundrous Words. These beautiful words would be our words.
I went first. “Growing up with my sister was like that . . . she in the front, I in the back,” I read aloud. Then I turned to my left and looked at Jose, giving him a slight nod for encouragement.
“I kept trying until I heard my mom’s car rolling into the driveway. My heart sank,” Jose read quietly. The students looked at him, wide-eyed. Before there was time to ask questions, Jose turned to Geddy on his left.
Geddy read, “When I said good night to my mom that night, she wasn’t smiling. Neither was I. No one was smiling. For me, it was impossible to imagine that anyone in the world that night could be smiling.” A couple of students let out an audible sigh at the beauty of Geddy’s words.
Then, Megan spoke. “It’s like your first time jumping in a pool, your parent standing in the water, arms outstretched waiting to catch you. It’s like the first time riding your bike, both parents on either side waiting to catch you if you fall. It’s like your first roller coaster ride and you’re sitting in the cart clinging on to your mom or dad. It’s like that.”
One after the other, they shared. Their beautiful words filled the classroom and lifted us up and brought us together. No other commentary, no questions. Just one beautiful line, one truthful sentence after the other, forming us into this circle of brave writers.
Taking Time to Savor
When the share had worked itself back around the circle to me, I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just sat there. We all just sat there, letting the words fall from the air into a comfortable silence. “Well . . . ” I ventured after a moment.
“Those were so good!” a student exclaimed.
“Wow,” another student agreed.
And I knew we had just found one of our favorite ways to share: a circle share.
It was one of those great, unplanned teaching moments that had me smiling on my commute home. What made it work? Why was it so powerful? First, it happened at the end of this bend of our writing unit. The students had been talking and writing for days. The writing they brought to the carpet wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t finished, but it was substantial. It mattered. Second, there was no commentary between shares. No pausing for questions or snickers or comments. Just one bravely written sentence after another. There is something to be said about filling the room with the beautiful sound of written words.
Finally, we were working in a poignant genre. Could the circle share be just as powerful if it consisted of excerpts of a research paper? Maybe. Maybe the power is in the sharing just as much as it is in the words themselves.
We have since added the circle share to our repertoire of possibilities for closing out writing workshop. Circle share is celebratory and empowering.