Recently, on the advice of a fellow teacher, I decided to give my students an open-ended project. The idea was to give my students something to work on for an extended period of time with little involvement from me or my assistant. I have to say, I loved it! It gave me a chance to observe my students and it gave them a chance to explore their own interests and be creative.
I began the day by telling the students that today we would be making books. They could choose any topic as long as they followed our basic guidelines:
- No weapons or violence.
- No potty talk
I then showed them the book-making nook, complete with instructions and a sample:
As you can see, they had their choice of three sizes of books (and could, furthermore, decide to orient them in either landscape or portrait directions). I tried to provide them with a variety of colors for their cover pages, too. The simple instruction card may look familiar–I borrowed the idea from the book-making station in Room 6. I also reminded the students of the tools we had available in the classroom:
Pens and pencils are a must, of course, but the stencils were a welcome reminder for those students who were unsure of their drawing abilities. Since I wanted them to work as independently as possible, I encouraged them to use the “Words I Use When I Write” books kept on the Writing Shelf. But–I told them with great emphasis–I was not worried about spelling. They were free to use inventive spelling and not worry about whether or not I thought their words were spelled correctly.
Then I let them have at it.
Here are the results:
We pinned them up on a classroom bulletin board with binder clips. This is helpful since many of the books aren’t finished. This way, the students can easily pull them down from the wall and add to their work. Here’s a closer look at a couple:
You can see from just this small sample how different each book is! It’s worth noticing that one tells the story in dense text, one in pictures and words, one in graphic novel format and one in mostly pictures, but all are forms of storytelling. I love that!
Here are some of the things that I observed/noted while my students were working on their books:
- Many students wrote about other students in the class and even I made an appearance or two.
- Even though I told the students that I didn’t care about spelling, it was hard for some students to let go and spell inventively.
- “Write about anything!” can be too broad (and scary!) a prompt for some students. If they don’t have a starting point, they won’t be able to start at all, so I recommend having a few prompts to hand for those students.
- The students enjoyed sharing their books with me and each other.
- Even my most reluctant writers had fun with the task.
A few thoughts about spelling in general: It’s common for parents to focus on their child’s ability (or inability) to spell. Unfortunately, nothing inhibits a child’s willingness to write more than the pressure to spell each word correctly. This holds especially true when their spelling skills are poor–or even if they simply perceive them to be. There’s a time and a place to work on Spelling, but it’s not during Creative Writing. By encouraging my students to use inventive spelling, I hope to lessen the anxiety they feel while writing so they can more easily tap into their creativity.
All-in-all, a successful experiment! I’m excited to try more open-ended projects in the classroom. I’ve printed, cut and laminated these Daily Draw cards from Playful Learning. The cards give the students a place to start with their drawing–who knows where they’ll go from there!