Playfulness, Risk-Taking and the Developing Writer: #engchat Reflection Part I

Last month I had the pleasure of guest hosting the weekly #engchat on Twitter. Sixty minutes zoomed by as the tweets poured in in rapid succession. I knew I would need some distance and time to reflect on the wide range of ideas and extended multiple conversations that happened that night. After combing through the responses to just the first question of the night in the archives of the chat session, I realized that this would have to be a series of reflections. I am no Wonder Woman. So, without further ado, here is the first question and what I saw as a few of the salient points made in just the first 15 minutes of the evening’s chat.

Risk-Taking, Comfort, Confidence and Growth

In addition to goals that we had for young writers’ written products and abilities, most of the tweets focused on aspects of writerly dispositions that rarely, if ever, are mentioned in curricular materials. Here’s a sampling:

In looking over these tweets, I was struck by how intertwined comfort, confidence and risk-taking are…and not only that, but also how integral they are two learning and growth. I began trying to sort out the chicken/egg causal relationship between these aspects. Are we more confident because we are comfortable in taking risks? Or are we more comfortable because we’ve experienced risk-taking (successful or not), and if successful we gained confidence in knowing what we know and what we don’t know? Or do we have enough confidence to have comfort to take a risk? Or is this line of questioning not really that fruitful?

Our society is set up to look for cause and effect, especially when the question is development, but that simply isn’t how we make meaning of our experiences–and how we make sense of experiences is central to growth. I thought about Joe Bower’s recent post What Learning Looks Like in which he broke down aspects of learning, including comfort, confidence and risk, all happening at the same timeย in a girl’s run down a snow slope. (It’s precious, if nothing else. Worth a quick watch. Watch all the way through!)

My guess is that we could (and someone probably has) tease out the causal links, but I think what is more helpful to us as teachers of writing is to focus our attention designing writing experiences with attention to comfort, confidence and risk-taking. And not only focus on these single experiences/performances, but focus on designing writing experiences over time and attending to comfort, confidence and risk in these experiencesย over time. We often talk about single lessons or tasks, but as a question of growth, we want to pay attention not only to the single “sign of growth” but to how that occurs over time and through experience.

Playfulness and Revision

We can also see these three aspects (comfort, confidence, risk-taking) as dispositions (or the writer’s approach or orientation) toward writing. Another “sign of growth” that many #engchat participants brought up was revision. This is not that shocking if you think about what writing is. (Writing and revision are nearly synonymous, imo.) What was interesting to me was how people were talking about youths’ approaches or dispositions toward revision. I think this isย indicativeย of another aspect of growth that receives short shrift in curricular materials.

There are so many other tweets from our chat that I could post here, but I’ll move on for now. I want to point out the language of these tweets: “trying new moves,” “playing around with,” “varying…trying…the process is messy,” “looking at feedback as…not feeling like they did wrong,” “being comfortable in the discomfort of being lost as a writer.” So many of these not only indicate that youth are revising their pieces of writing in one way or another, but that they are doing it in a way that frames writing as experimental and positions themselves as player. I used the word “player” purposefully there, because it is not just being playful–which it is–but also (using a sports metaphor) being the one handling the ball on the field. The writer as player is the actor in the midst of the action. Now, if we go with this metaphor, we have to note that the field or game is messy, messy, messy. The player can act, but isn’t in control of all elements. Writing isn’t something with steps or formulas. It isn’t a performance of set skills. Rather it’s an activity that needs the player to bring “her game.” This is all an orientation toward writing. And though we were describing it as a “sign of growth,” it may well be an orientation toward writing that is necessary in order to learn from that writing activity.

We could have another #engchat on these questions, but comments below will do…

  • What kind of experiences help us to develop this orientation toward writing?
  • How do people grow in confidence, comfort, playfulness and risk-taking?
  • How do you map youths’ growing confidence, comfort, playfulness and risk-taking?
  • How can we insert these dispositions into conversations of curriculum and assessment?

Resources Shared in Reference to this Question

10 thoughts on “Playfulness, Risk-Taking and the Developing Writer: #engchat Reflection Part I

    1. I would love to use the video in my classroom for inspiration and self regulation. The power of words are incredible. After viewing the video I would have discussions of risk taking, over coming our fears, and the power of positive thinking and how it relates to writing.

  1. Great video! You can hear the fear in this little girl’s voice as she takes on a new challenge. Then you hear her excitement when she conquers her fear and realizes she had the courage to do it! It’s a nice reminder that as teachers we need to let our students know that anything new is going to be a challenge. It’ a okay to ease into something new, whether a sport or academics. We only get better if we try!

  2. I LOVE the video of the girl’s first ski jump. I was tense just watching her experience it. It is important that we remember that trying something new is not always easy. It takes a lot of guts!

    I also really loved the tweets in response to your question. My thought on that is —how freeing it is to be limited in what you can say (140 characters)! There were a lot of truths in the tweets you shared that we just don’t see in a textbook, like a writer being comfortable with discomfort. How comfortable am I with discomfort???

    Thanks for the tips on resources. LOVE when teachers share.

  3. What a great reminder of the importance of establishing an environment in our classrooms in which students feel safe to take the risks involved in trying new things. Writing is such a personal thing, and it does feel risky to have it evaluated by someone. I liked the post that said “writers need to be comfortable in the discomfort of being lost as a writer.” We’ve all been there, but if we are going to grow, we must be willing to take risks.

  4. Comfort, confidence and risk–I love how that video clip shows how all three of these emotions can work within a person. It is especially exciting to think that this experience is just one rotation in this girl’s spiral of improvement.
    Using that ski jump experience to describe the writing process gives me a lot of food for thought. Which is more courageous; the physical challenge of taking your first run down a steep hill, or the emotional challenge of being vulnerable through your writing? I can see how I need to help my students feel ‘safe’ enough to take a risk.

  5. I know a student is progressing as a writer and feeling more confident when he or she stops asking how to spell a word every time the pencil touches the paper. When they sound it out for themselves and feel confident with it, knowing that it can be corrected during editing time, I know that they are progressing. Their ideas have finally taken precedence over the minute details. Unfortunately, when they get so caught up in spelling or punctuation, they lose their train of thought. There isn’t that beautiful flow of words that comes with confidence and risk taking.

  6. I teach Kindergarten and getting a student to write their ideas and take these risks can be challenging! Students even from the young age of 5 are nervous to write. Where does this come from? How to they learn to be scared of something they are just learning to do? I hope as an early childhood educator to encourage students to take risks and not be afraid to write their thoughts and ideas.

  7. Being willing to take risk is vital but very difficult for some groups of kids who have experienced failure due to learning disabilities.

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