Last week, prior to launching our Opinion Writing unit in my first grade class, I asked my students to write an opinion or claim and tell reasons why they have that opinion. I planned to use this piece as a pre-assessment to inform my teaching. One student, A., chose to write about ballet. Here is a page from her piece:
For those of you who don’t read first grade, I’ll translate: Ballet practice can be hard. But you don’t just dance. Dance with a joyful heart. (And for those of you who know first grade well, did you notice the beginning uppercase letters and ending punctuation? Yeehaw!)
I’ve thought about these heart-warming words a lot since I first read them. My initial reaction was something like, “Oh, how sweet! I love that phrase, “a joyful heart.” Then later on I thought, “I bet her dance teacher uses those words.” And later still, I began to wonder, what are the words that my students take away from our time together? Are there phrases that I’ve instilled in them, deliberately or by chance? Are they all positive?
A’s piece reminds me to be mindful of the messages, spoken and unspoken, that I send each day to my students and to maximize the joy and the sheer fun of learning. If my first graders leave my class with the message that even when things are challenging, you try your best, persevere and keep joy in your heart, well, I would be quite delighted with that. (In fact, even more delighted than with beginning uppercase letters and ending punctuation!) What a lovely, powerful message to cultivate.
I intended to use this writing to guide my teaching, I didn’t realize how much it would do so. A has also reminded me that one of the joys of teaching is learning from our students.