Thursday, February 13, 2014

Putting Ourselves in Our Student-Writers' Shoes

Chart created after students
explored different memoirs
We started our third unit in the Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop Units of Study this past week in school.  After completing our narrative unit and research-intensive informational essay unit, my students were just elated when I revealed during our first mini lesson that they would be writing memoirs.  The smiles on their faces were so nice to see.  They are especially excited because our Teacher's College staff developer, Alissa Levy, is coming out for a visit next week!  Alissa's presence and instructional delivery in the classroom is truly magic.  Today's site-based teacher professional development fit perfectly with our study in the classroom.

Today's session was perhaps the most powerful professional development I've ever attended.  My wonderful principal gave all of us time to write.  We were to start writing our next anchor piece for our current or upcoming writing workshop unit.  We're so fortunate at my school to be a Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project, Project School.  As a Project School, not only do all teachers at our site receive intensive training and study in the writing workshop, but also our principal receives extensive training.  Due to this, we're all on the same page.  It's only been five months, and we already see and feel a huge positive change in our students' writing and reading.

Today, all 18 teachers at my school sat down to write.  It was powerful!  Much like in the writing workshop with our students, we started with a mini lesson of sorts to focus.  Then, we were set free to write.  My grade level partners and I shared our ideas with one another before we took to our lap tops.  After chatting with one another, asking clarifying questions, and giving words of encouragement, we hunkered down with our coffee in our school library's cozy papasan chairs to begin our memoirs.  It was fabulous.  I was writing away, sipping coffee, smiling, thinking, typing… then, out of nowhere, I hit a wall.  I had no idea what to write next.  I was stuck.  After about a page of typing, I just couldn't think of where to take my piece next.  As I looked around the library, I saw my colleagues writing away.  Was I the only one who stopped?  Was I the only one stuck?  Was anybody going to look up so I could catch their eye to give them the "please come and help me" look?   It was quite the humbling experience.

Writing is hard!  Today, I truly experienced what many of my fifth graders do when I ask them to sit down and write a flash draft.  I wrote a little, became stuck, wrote a little more, stood up to walk around, wrote a little more, sat and blankly stared at my screen, shared my writing with my grade level partner Jenn, wrote a tad more, then just gave up for the day.  It was exhausting, yet fulfilling in an odd way.  I'm not going to pick up my memoir again until I am in front of my students.  I want them to see that I am experiencing the struggle that most, if not all writers face.  I want them to see that the struggle is part of the process.  I want them to see that they can help empower me, and thus they can empower each other.

Unless teachers actually sit down to go through the writing workshop process themselves, it is near impossible to understand what we are asking of our students.  I'm looking forward to bringing my memoir to my students when we return to school next week.  I can't wait to see the look on their faces when I tell them that I am completely stuck.

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