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Identity Matters: Starting with Stories



“The strongest teacher-writer relationships I have experienced and studied begin with the writers themselves, with the teachers discovering and developing the writer’s identity. Let the students get the message that they possess untapped potential in learning writing. And through that belief, one of a growth mindset, every day is an opportunity for growth. Let me define what I mean by “writer’s identity.” To me, it’s a self-concept a student has, that is comprised of current skills, curiosities, insecurities, memories, and experiences as a writer. Much like a snail carries its shell on its back, a writer has inside a shell full of interests, talents, particular likes, and dreams–and it’s our job to discover and enhance them throughout the year.”

–Patty McGee, Feedback That Moves Writers Forward, p. 53

In my recent Reality’s Reflection post  Learning is a Story I made mention of my using reading and writing stories to set the stage with my kids as a means for them to consider, discover,  and share their reading and writing identities. Since then, a number of people have inquired about the stories, seeking more information about how I use them in my classroom. And since then, I was lucky enough to come into contact with Patty McGee with whom I recently co-moderated a #TG2Chat, Now’s the Time to Save the Humanities. This contact prompted me to buy her book, Feedback That Moves Writers Forward, from where I lifted the above passage, which poignantly articulates the importance of discovering our writers’  identities.

Not only does this passage mirror the purpose I have sought to achieve with my reading and writing stories, but also it carries implications beyond the writing classroom. I believe that “writer” can be exchanged with “learner,” and that “writing” can be exchanged with any subject. “Let the students get the message that they possess untapped potential in learning…[any subject].” And that message, that belief begins with helping our students discover and develop their learning identities. Below is how I will use reading and writing stories to begin that process of discovery in my classroom this year.

Reading and Writing Stories: Mining Identity

In an attempt to be novel, I created what I have come to call, Twitterviews. I will use these to prompt my kids to begin digging into–mining–their reading and writing identities. I will share these documents with them through Google Classroom.

Reading and Writing Stories: Sharing Identity

My kids keep a Journey Journal. These stories will be their first entries. They, though I don’t tell the kids this, will also be their last entries. That is, we will update their stories at the end of the year. My hope is that from their experiences in my classroom this year, they will be able to add rich content to their stories. I use the document below to get my students started. I realize the introductory frame may be a bit over the top, but it is a true reflection of who I am and how I communicate with my kids.

Our work begins with knowing our kids. The kids’ work begins with knowing themselves. We, I believe, have not only the power but also the responsibility to make that a reality in our classrooms, regardless what we teach.

I hope you found some value in my post. Please feel free to use and/or modify to make it fit you and your classroom.

Do. Reflect. Do Better. 



3 Replies to “Identity Matters: Starting with Stories”

  • Monte,
    I love the idea of the Twitterview! I May borrow this and expand it to kids as learners or to survey their ideas of school. The idea of their Journey Journal is powerful. Thank you.

    Do you recommend Patty McGee’s book for social studies or math?

    • Of course you may borrow. Not sure that I can recommend her entire book for those subjects as it is primarily intended for ELA, but in regards to giving feedback, which is intended for all classrooms, I think there are some important ideas. I’m not done with the book yet, so I will give a more definitive answer then.

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