Halloween is almost here, so let me say something that might sound scary.
It might be time to drop the Halloween writing project. (Cue dramatic, horror-film music.) I know, I know. Your students love writing spooky stories. They want to write about witches, goblins, and ghouls. My students did, too — or at least some of them did.
For many years, right around this time, when pumpkin spice everything is at its peak, I’d drop writing workshop, and students would spend their time writing spooky or other Halloween-related stories. But every year, there was always at least one student who wasn’t allowed to write those kinds of stories. Leaving those kids feeling left out was one reason I abandoned this practice. If I was trying to cultivate an inclusive community, it didn’t make sense to make such a to-do about a holiday that some in our community didn’t embrace.
Then there were the kids who didn’t want to write those kinds of eerie stories.
One essential principle of writing workshop is that students should get to choose what they’re writing about. Kids are more engaged and do better writing when they get to decide the writing topic. By making students write about Halloween, I was unnecessarily narrowing their choices. If I was trying to get students excited about writing and having their voices heard, it didn’t make sense to have all students writing about the same thing.
But what if kids could opt out? Sure, but having to opt-out of something that many of your classmates are doing may be easier said than done. A student could feel embarrassed about bringing it up, not wanting to call attention to themselves. Opting out could also be upsetting when it’s not the student’s choice but a family one. It could be hard to listen to your classmates talking about a shared experience that you don’t get to share when it’s unnecessary.
Aside from leaving students out, I stopped this practice because I realized I wasn’t helping my kids as writers.
We were putting our regular writing on hold, not just for one day, but several — and sometimes for weeks. During that time, I have to confess; I wasn’t teaching kids any strategies for writing scary stories.
Does this have you reconsidering your Halloween writing project?
Here are a couple of treats (not tricks) that might make this time of year less nightmarish:
Give your kids time to work on a genre of their choice (something to consider at other times throughout the year, too). Kids who want to write spooky stories can do so if they wish.
Does your whole class want to get in on it? Continue to move them forward as writers by teaching strategies that spooky story writers use like those in this chart…
When approaching any holiday or seasonal celebration, we have an opportunity as educators to ensure everyone feels included, seen, and heard. For more ways to make your holiday celebrations more inclusive, check out our blog post on winter holidays — De-Centering Christmas Celebrations in Our Classrooms.
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