Deb Frasier, one of the authors on the TwoWritingTeachers.org Blog wrote this week about writing environments. She dove into how and where she decides to write and then wrote about student writing spaces. Her points about having spaces comfortable and conducive to writing struck a chord with me for a few reasons.
Firstly, I encounter space finding for my writing on a daily basis. I most often settle at our kitchen island counter, perched on a stool, right after my boys leave for school with coffee in hand. I like getting my blog written and posted in the morning. Sometimes I opt for the kitchen table itself, where I can spread my papers. This is mostly reserved for writing a paper for one of my many graduate courses of recent years. Occasionally, I will find myself writing on my bed, or on the couch next to our fireplace, when an idea for a blog piece comes to mind. Aside from writing scholarly papers, I do not need many tools, just my laptop. My husband is envious of my ability to type and while I have never given it much thought, I suppose it is an essential skill as a writer.
Although I have been able to get my blog out and papers written for the last year, not having a dedicated space for writing presents a few problems. First and foremost is the problem of being visible – I am in the common areas of the house, available for all to see and call on. Chores like laundry and lunch dishes beckon me, and concentration is broken for the quick peck on my cheek from my husband, or quick question from my sons. I suppose these interruptions are part of the reason I write in the morning, once everyone is out of the house. For then it is quiet and peaceful, allowing my thoughts to flow freely from my overworked brain through my busy fingers onto the laptop screen. The interruptions are also reason for me to ask my oldest son, who is now a graduate student, if I could convert his bedroom into a dedicated office or writing room for my use. Knowing the importance my writing holds for me, and the fact he will probably never require the use of his bedroom for an extended period of time, he graciously supported the conversion of his former space.
So far this project has been exciting for I have ordered a solid Alder wood writing desk, two filing cabinets of matching wood and a new sofa sleeper. I have yet to pick out paint colors and move an old desk into my youngest son’s room. I am looking forward to having a dedicated space, one with a door I can shut, which will allow me to accomplish my writing more efficiently. At least, I hope that is what will happen. I am sure it will take some adjustment.
The second reason Ms. Frasier’s post resonated with me was because I used to run a small writing group for third graders. This is the first year in seven that I have not had the group. Space at schools is a premium; I know that, especially in a growing district. When writer’s circle started we had empty classrooms, but had no need for those, as the library was directly across the hall from the third grade classrooms. It was convenient, warm, and welcoming. I could not think of a better place for a writer’s circle to be held. In the LMC (library) we were surrounded by books, dictionaries and thesauruses that were readily available. It was generally quiet and there was plenty of table space. We were respectful patrons, keeping our voices low, and picking up after ourselves when writer’s circle was done.
I am not sure exactly when it happened, other than it was a year or two after we got a new librarian, that I was told I could not hold my 30 minute, once a week, writer’s circle in the LMC! Needless to say, I was shocked and disheartened. We were moved into the cafeteria, being told that was the only available space. Now, even though lunch periods were over, this was a less than ideal – actually, it was a horrible – space for writer’s circle. Kindergarten students paraded in to get their milk for snack time, sometimes the tables were pushed to the side, and of course, we had to make trips to the library if we needed resources like dictionaries or a mentor text. This was our space for two years! I was able to compensate to some extent, bringing in dictionaries from the dollar store, a portable white board, and tote any needed mentor texts with me to our group meetings. But, in general, it was awful. I felt like our group was devalued and pushed aside. I don’t think it was a co-incidence that our group was “forgotten” that year for their year book picture.
It was definitely not a space conducive to student writing. So, reluctantly, I spoke up. During the last two years of writer’s circle we were allowed to use space in support classrooms that had an extra table. It was not ideal, but it worked better than the cafeteria.
To write to the best of their ability, and enjoy the process, students need to have a comfortable and welcoming place for their writing to take place. At the end of her article, Ms. Frasier explores some ways to create writing spaces within classrooms. She advocates taking student choices for their writing space into account. Whether you accept her tips or not, is up to you. Writing is individually driven, just as writing spaces are too.
But, creating a space, for yourself or your students, where it is comfortable and ideas can flow is critical to the writing process. I hope you have such a space. If you can share where you or your students do your best writing, I would love to hear about it in the comments! Thanks!