My recent thinking has latched onto the idea of writers collaborating. In the real world, these are supportive communities. Writers reach out to others they trust. Often, a relationship is in place--but not always. Sometimes just the common desire to have a partner draws like-minded people to writers' groups and classes.
Having someone to talk and share with consistently draws the best out of us as writers.
When I had my 8th grade students collaborate on a piece of writing together, I asked Elsa to podcast her experience with me. Even when a choice of collaboration is offered, Elsa has been someone to remain independent--most of my students choose to write by themselves.
This makes sense. Some have been disappoint by group efforts on projects of the past. We know the scenario. One person does most of the work. The partner cruises and receives the same grade at the end.
What did they learn other than you can't get good help nowadays?
But I pushed for collaboration this time. It wasn't a choice. You had to write something together.
Elsa said, "I enjoyed it...I felt like I had somebody to rely on...they were right there to say 'Alright, you work on the conclusion, and I'll try to work this out and we can switch again and make changes..."
Elsa kept repeated that she really liked that idea. There was something supportive in the process of writing small sections and then evaluating it together before moving forward. Elsa said, "It was nice to ask questions." They talked about writing the entire time except when they wrote.
When I listening to them collaborate, I often caught them talking about word choice and sentences--how would a reader interpret this wording, this structure, the basics of this idea. Do we need more? Is it clear? Should we move this sentence?
Elsa confirmed what I saw, "Usually, when I write by myself, I right what i think sounds right and looks right. [The writing partner] really helped me see a different way of looking at the sentence and how the reader is going to read it."
The process of asking students to write together opened up the possibilities for those who could not see it on their own. While there are still elements of adolescents being reactive writers (because it is writing for a school assignment) the act of writing and talking simultaneously with somebody to rely on moves adolescents closer to also being reflective writers throughout the process.
And learning to be a reflective writer in the process is a skill that writers can carry with them throughout their lives.