Thoughts on writing

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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.
twowritingteachers.org

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!

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14 thoughts on “Thoughts on writing

  1. showgem says:

    As a 5th grade writing teacher I struggle as well with the curriculum and creating 3 classes where students love to write.They are able to produce good writing, but I’m not sure how much they enjoy writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amy Warntz says:

    I’m glad you hit pushed the publish button. I often think back to how I taught writing when I was in the classroom. It makes me cringe. I insisted that *everyone* used the 4 Square writing method. Now, I am a person of organization and planning and I *never* write like that. I write like you. Scouring my journals and Evernote looking for what I jotted down, what inspired me at the moment. I may even have 75 rough drafts sprinkled throughout my notes too. But yet, we as teachers get so hung up on teaching the curriculum, truthfully meaning well on teaching writing. And, as teachers if a student handed in a journal of random thoughts would we consider it writing? Probably not. It’s a struggle. I have a wonderful writing book by Kelly Gallagher called WRITE LIKE THIS. I’m actually doing a little blog post on it tomorrow. Thanks for sharing this morning, Molly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      Amy, thanks for sharing your experiences. I know I’ve learned a lot since I started teaching but wow! I still have so much to learn. Changing grades really brings that into focus! I can’t wait to read your post tomorrow!

      Like

  3. Excellent thoughts on engaging students as they develop as writers. When we value their voice in writing we are indeed valuing them as individuals.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Liz McKenna says:

    You might be worried that you haven’t given them enough choice and freedom, but the fact that you’re reflecting on that makes it clear that you’re exactly the kind of writing teacher your students need! Thank you for hitting the publish button!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. isbergamanda says:

    Writing is something I struggle with the most as a teacher. We are so often required to produce certain things to go along with the curriculum. It just feels like a constant balancing act of what I want, what they want, and what the curriculum says we need to do. I wish I could give them more writing freedom!

    -Amanda at https://teachingwanderlust.com

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This struggle is real, Molly. Thank you for so honestly sharing the path your thinking has taken. It’s led to some important insights, especially this: “I need to actively generate that same enthusiasm within my students.” Your students are lucky to have you leading them on this exciting journey!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. kd0602 says:

    Hi Molly,

    I often think about the balance of the requirements we have as teachers and the joy of writing and learning we want to instill. I do think it helps when the kids know you care, even if you’re not doing exactly what you hope for in your teaching. I’m admiring your 75 drafts–at least you’re committing those words to the screen, I know many of my drafts stay in my head–where I cannot revisit them. Now I’m inspired to draft more…even if I don’t push the publish button! Thanks for the reflections and the inspiration.

    Kim

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      Thanks, Kim. My draft file is, I suppose, similar to my writer’s notebook. I try to keep adding to both of them to record fleeting thoughts, to ponder privately, to experiment and to create a pool of seed ideas. Happy drafting!

      Like

  8. carriegelson says:

    I love this post. Thank you thank you for pushing publish and sharing your vulnerabilities!

    Liked by 1 person

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