I have unshakable faith in children. They always show me the way. ♥

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

wishes for writing

In Small Moments: Personal Narrative Writing, Lucy Calkins writes this:

You will have read through your children's work and, in your mind, you'll have a long list of wishes for your kids.  You'll wish they'd
  • Draw more representationally
  • Write more focused narratives
  • Write more in addition to drawing
  • Use their time wisely
  • Focus on writing more than handwriting

You are wise to wish these things for your writers, but don't show children your feelings if you are discouraged.  For now, instead of tackling all the problems, immerse the class in rich examples of what you hope they'll do.  Act as if all is going splendidly, even if it isn't yet.  Find the good in the classroom even if you know you are overlooking the problems that are really there.

I love that. I love it not because it's super peppy and positive, but because it's real. With young writers (perhaps with all writers), there are always so many places to improve, always so many places to go, to teach. As a writer, there are so many things to remember (audience, voice, showing, not telling, and etc...) . As a kid... there are even more. They're still developing control over their handwriting, they're learning to match letters and sounds, and then remember how to spell words correctly, how to put spaces in between words, and even what that crazy "experlation mark" is for.

Then, their teachers pile even more on: we talk about zooming in, about writing about just one thing, about using interesting punctuation (ellipses and quotation marks); we talk about choosing the right word, about thinking about how to write a good lead that will capture the reader and make them want to learn more.

It's no wonder that reading over children's writing can be overwhelming. There are so many things for them still to learn! And what about the punctuation, didn't I teach that already?

But Lucy Calkins is right on.

Reading this advice a few years ago really freed me.  Teaching writing had been 20% joy and 80% something else entirely.  This advice helped me remember to do what I like to do best:  notice what the kids are doing.  Notice it out loud.  Individually.  In pairs.  To the whole class.  Point out the good writing going on.  Children want examples; they want to be examples.  Holding onto the wishes for my students as writers was important, but finding it within what they were already doing was more important.

Everyone who studies child development studies Lev Vgotsky and his Zone of Proximal Development -- this is the idea that the best learning place for something new is something that's slightly harder than what that person is already doing. They need to be able to challenge themselves, to reach up just a little to grasp the new learning, but not too far that it's out of reach and creates frustration. This is highly oversimplifying all of Vgotsky's work, but bear with me.

It's different for everyone and it changes. Sometimes daily.

Isn't that exactly what Calkins is getting at in her statement? Instead of presenting my class with a list of things that they need to start doing, we examine and notice what we are already doing. Then we build little challenges in to learn more, to see more, to do more. Instead of a list of things they need to be doing, but aren't, children are recognizing what they are already doing well, and eagerly anticipating learning even more.

I've shared this quote often with colleagues, usually paraphrased, and then I have to go dig through the book to find it again.

I think tomorrow I'm going to print out that quote and tape it to my writing clipboard to keep under my fingertips.


Ms. Swamp said...

Oooh, such good advice. I need to remember this, in second grade too. I think I might print it out too.

kirsten said...

Isn't it? It's so useful and really goes across all areas. ♥

Mason said...

Love this! The same thing applies in 5th grade...although with more age-appropriate skills! And, like I said this morning...I need to get together with you b/c I need a teacher pep talk!

kirsten said...

Mason, I am so with you on a teacher pep talk -- we can pep up each other!