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Boot Camp: The Beginning

From the title, you would expect that I’d joined our fine military. Actually, Boot Camp is what I called those two weeks or so at the first of the year when I’d prepare my students for what they’d experience the rest of the year. It was back-to-basics time.

Now, I’m not talking about practicing writing sentences or correcting grammar. That’s important and it certainly has its place in writing instruction. But, we’re not ready to correct grammar on a piece that hasn’t been written yet, nor do perfect sentences make sense unless writers see how they fit into the framework of a piece of writing.

No, boot camp is about those other basics, writers’ essentials such as Audience, Purpose, Development of ideas, Types of Writing – and, yes, even Scoring Writing. Boot camp is a jump-in-the-pool-and-start-swimming time, a time for students to play, to work, and to think about their writing and, more important, to think about their thinking. That sounds so boring, but I guarantee it isn't. Let me share a typical boot camp lesson. I’ll put more in future posts.


Day One: Who are you as a writer?

This is a day of reflection and of goal setting. As students looked over past folders of their own work, work which might reflect several years of writing growth, they have two goals in mind: to think of their own growth as a writer (what they’ve learned, what they want to learn) and to find one piece of writing which they want to show me to exemplify who they are as thinkers and writers. They love this introduction to my class because they get to look through, laugh at, and reflect on their own work, they get to share something insightful or memorable with others, and they get to analyze their own growth, whether by doing error analysis, tallying common issues, or just note taking on what they see.

From this comes their first written communication to me, a letter which introduces themselves to me as both a person and as a writer. They also address the piece of writing they’ve picked out of their folders by letting me in on how and why they picked that piece to exemplify them. Finally, they decide on a goal for themselves for my class and/or for the school year. This goal is one I take seriously, and I want them to do the same. As I work through the year, their goals are my checklist, my add-ins if necessary. Their goals become, in effect, my goals.


Somehow, this lesson sets the tone for my class, letting my students know that they are the ones doing the work and that I’m just the “guide on the side.” I’ll be there to help them and give them the tools I can provide, yet they are the ones who will accomplish those goals, who will grow as the thinkers I want them to be.

Yes, I have lots of letters and papers to look over, even on day 1, but what a wonderful group of papers they are. Yes, I respond to each one in some way or another since they are all letters and reflections to me. But, in that simple act of communication and my communication back to them, we set the tone for a year of writing, a year of learning, a year of sharing.

What’s next for Day 2? Come and join us in a series of posts on Boot Camp and all things writing! Feel free to question, to comment, to post on the website or our Facebook page. We’d love to start a conversation with you! Until then, Dismissed!

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