Friday, September 30, 2016

Sharing Writing Without Fear: The Mystery Author Box

As I've written before, giving students time and space to write is very important to me. It's equally as important to set aside time for my students to share what they've written with our writing community. We've been using our author's chair for over six weeks now, and I am happy to say that it is very well-graffitied. However, I've noticed that some of my writers who have created beautiful pieces are still reluctant to share their words.

As a self-proclaimed introvert, I understand when some students balk at the idea of reading anything aloud in front of their peers. Asking those same students to read something that they authored is simply out of the question. Writing is an intensely personal act, and sharing it with others means being completely vulnerable. Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes in a middle school knows these years are rife with uncertainty and worry about others' perceptions and opinions. Sharing personal writing might feel, to some, like throwing a log on the already-flaming fire of insecurity. For these reasons, when it comes time to share our writing, I always make it optional. The author's chair is open to anyone who chooses to share. Forced sharing removes the authenticity from our writing community and dismantles the mutual respect we build with our students and their writing.

However, what happens when a student might want to share their words but may feel scared or hesitant? I knew that this situation would happen, because I personally feel that way many times when it comes time to read my own writing to others! Borrowing from a technique I learned from my time with the Gateway Writing Project this summer, I knew that a Mystery Author box would be a safe space for my students to share anonymously.

The box itself is just a cardboard box with a latch from a craft store that I decoupaged with some "writing-esque" scrapbooking paper.** If a student writes something that they'd like to share anonymously, they can simply drop it in the box when they feel like it. There's plenty of unstructured time during workshop where they can do this rather stealthily. The box is also located in an area that isn't highly trafficked, which adds to the air of privacy. If students don't feel like tearing their writing out of their thinkbook (our class journals), they can drop a Post-It note with their name and title of their piece so that I know to look for it. During times where we use the author's chair, I open up the Mystery Author box and read pieces that have been added over the course of the week. We don't speculate about who wrote them; we just listen.

The impact of this simple addition is twofold: firstly, the author gets to hear his/her words spoken aloud, which is a powerful experience, and they also get to see a favorable reaction from their peers. Sometimes, this can push a writer to go a step further and start sharing with a wider audience, which is a huge piece in making writing authentic.

Secondly, the audience gets to hear words that may not have been shared otherwise. Some pieces in the Mystery Author box are very personal. These stories may never have seen the light of day if not for this anonymous platform. Think of sites like PostSecret or Whisper--they are so popular because they let people be vulnerable under the cloak of anonymity. The Mystery Author box affords my students that same "cloak" while still giving them a space to share.

Moving forward, now that some have chosen to use Google Docs for their writing time, I hope to start a Padlet page where students can anonymously add their writing. They can always share their Google Doc with me directly, but for those who need complete anonymity, Padlet is a good option.

Sharing writing is important. I'm always seeking out ways to establish a writing community that is a safe space for students to take steps forward in their journeys as writers, no matter how small those steps might be. The Mystery Author box is just another way to empower writers to take a leap of faith and share their words with others.

**Note to anyone who decides to get similarly crafty: the liquid Mod-Podge is the way to go, not the spray. I'm sure seasoned crafters are scoffing at my naïveté, but for my fellow novices, don't make the same mistake I did!  

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