After I finished my last post, the quote above was on my homepage as an encouragement to reach my 90th post (this one!).
I like it.
I hadn’t thought of it quite like that before, but when I post on here, “thinking through my fingers” is exactly what I am doing. I love those of you who ‘like’, tweet, comment or email as a way of letting me know how the post I just wrote has had an impact on you. Really. Love it! Even more though, I like getting my thoughts down, saving access to the links I have found, thinking through the latest thing I have just read and challenging my own position as a 21st century educator.
I have never been great at sticking with things. Typically, I am excellent at starting things but my enthusiasm tapers and then a new project is born. This forum for ‘thinking through my fingers’ has been a great source of encouragement for me and a great way to sift through the mountain of awesomeness that exists in education right now.
Perhaps it will work for you? What do you have to say?
A few days ago, I posted about reading. Today, writing. I was reminded of wanting to post about writing when I saw this, three minutes ago:
I read this post by a teacher named Jenn, who shared her struggles with teaching writing and I felt like I could have written it (the first part anyway) about myself as a teacher of writing. What hit me was when she described her routine:
I gave a writing assignment and expected my students to complete it. They would complete it, sure, but with errors galore. I would instruct students to proofread their rough draft, and they would read through it, say, “It’s good!” and turn it in. Then (just like my teachers had done for me) I would spend hours correcting all of their mistakes, which they would then copy for their final draft. It was exhausting doing their work for them, and my students weren’t becoming better writers.
I was fortunate this year to have a teaching partner who has many strengths – one of which is teaching writing. By watching him and by doing in my own classroom, I felt like I was beginning to morph from the teacher described above to one more able to evoke a love of writing. But I still have a long ways to go! I know that I need to:
write when my kids write
be more explicit in talking about writing
share my own struggles, frustrations and triumphs in writing
make sure I am providing authentic audiences for their writing
draw upon real life experiences for writing
One of my biggest ‘breakthrough’ moments as a teacher was with a student who is a really good writer. She was ‘well-schooled’ in how writing works: She writes, the teacher approves her writing, she moves on to write something else. I felt a little stifled by this routine and wanted to break it – but didn’t know how. After almost a year of slowly working away at the idea that revising work is not a punishment, that the feedback from others can improve the work and that success as a writer isn’t determined by wether or not I, as the teacher, “like” your work, we made a breakthrough. One day, out of the blue, I noticed that our conversations about her writing had become a real conversation. She would share her work, ask for ideas, and when I gave suggestions, she would weigh in, ultimately making edits that suited her artistic inclinations.
My other writing epiphany came as I watch the writing of another student go from good to amazing in a really short period of time. I have been with some of my kids for two years having followed them from fourth to fifth grade and when I saw the change in this student’s writing, I was blown away. How did it happen? There were a number of factors and none of them had anything to do with me! Firstly, she read – a lot. Different genre, current books, all the time. Secondly, she was not at school, she was on a 77 day sabbatical in Barcelona. She wrote without pressure of the hamster wheel pace of school life and with the experience of a reader, traveler and explorer and it showed. Big time.
My question to myself is
“How do I make sure I help all children get to the same place these girls arrived at without leaving it to chance? ”
I did some research and came across a great post titled How Do Kids Really Learn To Write, 2.0 by Patricia Zaballos. It is an excellent read. I am highlighting points from it below but do yourself a huge favor and go read it in it’s entirety. It begins by outlining:
What Kids DON’T Need In Order To Become Writers:
Kids don’t need to master the mechanical skills of writing before developing voices as writers.
Kids don’t need daily, or even weekly writing practice.
Kids don’t need to practice writing in various formats.
Kids don’t need to write to develop as writers.
All these points would describe 99% of what goes on in a regular, grade-school writing class. But if this is being touted as what kids don’t need, what do they need? The blog post goes on to describe what you can do:
How Can You Help Kids Develop Into Writers:
Raise them in a literature-rich, word-loving home.
Talk about what interests them.
Make the distinction between getting-words-on-the-paper skills and written expression.
Let them write about what interests them, and in genres that they enjoy.
Explore intriguing nonfiction
Help them find meaningful, authentic reasons to write.
Although not explicitly said, my thinking is that if you focus on how you can help kids develop into writers, they naturally may start to do some of the things that they “don’t need”. They will want to learn to type or write faster/more neatly in order to be heard as an author. They will want to know the mechanics of spelling, punctuation and grammer in order to develop their writers voice. They will write daily or weekly without prompting because they have something to say. They will write in a variety of formats because they will realize that writing is everywhere and writing is for a purpose and those purposes are endless! They will develop as writers with each piece that they write, but also by each experience, discussion, reading, discovery, encounter and adventure that they undertake.
In reading the comments of other readers of this post, there is discussion of the use of dictation tools to facilitate the writing process. I hadn’t thought of doing this but I have previously allowed the kids to make audio or video recordings as reflections on their work. Doing this has meant I have gotten a much richer picture of their true thoughts on the topic. Kids are naturally going to be more fluent as speakers rather than writers and what better way to build confidence as a writer than by dictating your work? No longer does it have to be about how fast you can type or how quickly you can write, the focus can be on the richness of the content of your work. And isn’t that the real point?
Take another look at Austin Kleon’s 10 Ways to Steal Like A Writer:
I don’t know exactly what he was thinking when he wrote this, but here is my interpretation:
Slap things together from all parts of your life, moving things around, rearranging them and ultimately piecing it all together.
Be prepared to write anytime, anyplace, low-tech.
When you see something you consider “killer writing” copy it, rip it out, photograph it, keep it. Read it again and again. And again.
Write first, think later. Just do it – then refine, or not.
Experience 3D life so that you will have something to write about.
Do something each day to further your role as a writer: read, write, discuss, explore, create, do…
Entertain yourself with your writing – you will always be your number one fan.
Make people laugh/cry/give you stuff/root for you/want more.
Share your art.
Notice the correlation between Kleon’s list and Zaballos’ second set of bullet points? What does this tell me? This is just another reason why we need to keep explaining to the parents of the kids we teach, the WHY behind why we do what we do.
I am also reminded that Kleon’s message in Steal Like An Artist – and therefore presumably Steal Like A Writer – is not ‘be yourself’ and all will be fine. According to Kleon, this is the “last advice” he would give anyone. The idea is to invent yourself as an artist, a writer. Consciously move yourself forward in your quest to better yourself artistically, linguistically. This is great advice and implies a call to action on the part of the artist, the writer. It is this advice that I want to carry into the new school year as I actively guide my kids as they invent themselves as writers.