March SOLC–Day 14
A huge thank you to Anna, Beth, Betsy, Deb, Kathleen, Lisa, Lanny, Melanie, and Stacey for all that they do to create a supportive community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
During the March challenge I scour the saved drafts on my blog for seed ideas. Often I start writing something and run out of time or steam and then save it as a draft to come back to later. Also, I like to let my ideas simmer a bit. So, right now I have 75 drafts on my blog! Many are only a sentence or two, or an inspiring quote or picture, but some are a few paragraphs, or even half-finished. Sometimes I forget all about posts that I’ve started.
While browsing the other day, I found this post that I’d written this past fall. I’m not sure why I didn’t publish it, as it was essentially complete. I suspect I was concerned about sharing my vulnerabilities as a new fourth grade teacher, and I didn’t necessarily love the idea of advertising my feelings of inadequacy in a relatively public forum. Don’t we all worry about being judged when we share ourselves in writing? I’m still feeling vulnerable , but when I reread this post, I was struck by how much it captured my concerns and by how relevant this remains to me. I know that writing involves risk-taking so, I’m opting to share it now.
Fall Flashback (unedited):
I read a blog post this weekend and it has stayed with me, crystalizing some concerns that were lurking beneath my conscious notice. The author, Vicki Vinton, posted here about her daughter’s experience with writing and why she, herself, loves writing and her daughter does not. She ended with these final words: “How many other children, I wonder, might come to hate writing as well because they never experience what made me want to write: not just the pleasure in creating something out of words, but the sense that my perceptions and perspective were valued? I actually shudder to think. So let’s remember why we write: not just to master a set of skills but to give voice to our unique take on a text, a topic, an issue, the world.”
In all honesty this year, as I’m learning the curriculum, my focus has too often been on preparing for and getting through a lesson, in other words, teaching students to master skills. We’re writing essays at the moment and there are several students really struggling with engagement and volume. The impact of one day off-task is significant –if you don’t have your evidence prepared, it’s tough to start writing your essay. If you haven’t written your introduction yet, it’s tough to revise it. So, I’ve been feeling a bit more like a taskmaster than a cheerleader, and I don’t like it.
I read through all of the comments, eager to see what others had contributed to this conversation. One poster commented, “I’ve come to believe that there no children out there who “hate to write”, there are only teachers who make them hate to do so. We take away choice and the option to discover voice…how can writing be fun without either?”
Ahhh! Am I going to be that teacher?? I’m attempting to learn the curriculum as I teach it, and have certainly not mastered how to incorporate choice within its seemingly inflexible boundaries and within the filled-to-the minute schedule of our day. How do I encourage and support students who are passionate about writing fantasy or fiction when they have to write realistic fiction and essays? How do I highlight the joy of capturing one’s thoughts with the perfect phrase, when I’m struggling to make sure I’ve covered the teaching point, “deftly” woven in a mid-workshop point, and followed up with a meaningful share? That doesn’t even begin to build in the work with students who are actively resistant to writing, who already do not see themselves as writers. How do I encourage them to dip their toes into this rewarding water when I’m choosing how they have to do it? Negative thoughts come first–there’s no time, there’s no choice, this is overwhelming, this is impossible!
My comment to Vicki Vinton was this: “This post will linger with me. It has me thinking again (and worrying) about the long-term consequences of the limitations we impose on our students’ writing. In particular, I worry about the year-long genre restrictions that come along with a set curriculum that must be taught “with fidelity.” New to teaching fourth grade, I have much to learn about that curriculum and about how to nurture passion and choice within it. There has to be a way, right? Your post reminds me that finding this way is work that cannot be postponed until I’m more comfortable and confident within the framework of the curriculum. The idea that a student will leave my class not liking, or even hating, writing horrifies me.”
But the overriding thought is clear to me: I refuse to be the teacher who makes a child hate writing. So, what am I going to do?
Reading through the comments again, I realized that there’s a common thread. I need to take the time to make clear how much I value each writer’s voice and perspective. I need to emphasize explicitly that writing is a vehicle for communicating and clarifying thoughts and ideas. I can’t just share my enthusiasm for writing, I need to actively generate that same enthusiasm within my students. This isn’t news to me, but somehow these ideas have been displaced by the heavy learning curve of fourth grade curriculum.
Back to today—I’m still working on this balancing act. Sometimes I feel better about it. Sometimes not. But overall, I’m so glad I reread this post. It reminded me that I still have work to do in this area but more importantly it reminded me why I write –to process, to reflect, to share, and to remember.
Now, let’s just hope I don’t regret pushing publish!