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Writing and Me

I’ve set a goal for myself of writing every day for at least ten minutes. It’s not working. Most of the writing I’m doing is because I have a deadline that’s either imposed internally (blog entry) or externally (doctoral paper). Without the deadlines, I’m not writing during those self-appointed ten minutes every day. Of course, I write emails, notes to parents, comments on school documents, etc. But that’s not the same as disciplining myself to write for ten minutes whether or not I have to.

I need to revert this trend as it stultifies my goal. I want to be writing for the sake of writing as that is the only way to get at anything worth writing about. Make sense? It does to me. I need to write, every day, for 10 minutes even when I don’t have a deadline. There are now three article ideas running through my head and that’s all that’s happening – they are running through my head. I need to transfer the ideas in my head to paper.

Just yesterday I read a quote in The Life Before her Eyes by Laura Kasischke that resonated so deeply with me that I wanted to jot it down so I could write about it later. But, I got distracted and, in a flash, the quote was gone. And, I’ve neglected writing in my professional journal for the past month; this happens often.

I need to write to make sense of the events in my life. I need to write because I like the act of composing, revising, and making my writing as clear as I’m able at that moment in time. I need to write because how can I ask my students to write if I myself don’t write? I need to write because, through my writing, l make important connections in my personal and professional life. I need to write just like I need to breathe.

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Drawing in Writing Workshop

Every year, without fail, I am confronted with the dilemma of how to encourage my students to write a lot without compromising drawing as a form of expression during writing workshop. While I understand that drawing is important to writing at this stage and that a drawing can be as intricate and detailed as a piece of writing without pictures, I am still conflicted when I see children who draw flowers, candy canes, and the like just because they have the choice. At the same time, I have to remember that I must take the children where they are in order to get them to go where they can go next. But, should I limit the amount of drawing the children do? Should I “require” writing to happen before drawing? And, what does all this seemingly aimless drawing tell me about my lessons and my students’ grasp of what I’ve been trying to teach? As I write this I remember a wise teacher once saying that we need to eliminate the shoulds and musts from our vocabulary. Hmmm…

Last month, this issue rose to new heights as I read my students’ writing folders and their writer’s notebooks in preparation for writing report card narratives. I discovered that while their writer’s notebooks were full of great writing, most of the “writing” in their folders was actually drawing. In addition, many of the illustrations had little to no detail, didn’t convey a story or message, and seemed like doodling – what you might do as you chat with friends about everything and anything under the sun. The writer’s notebooks are a place where I prompt the children to try out different kinds of writing or topics that they wouldn’t normally choose on their own with the hope (maybe this is where I’ve gone awry) that they can transfer this into their own writing projects. The dearth of writing in the writing folders was true regardless of a particular child’s stage of writing development.

So, I panicked. Usually by this time of the year the majority of the kids are writing lots of stories and there are just a few that I may need to encourage so that they can increase their fluency as writers. So, I did what I always do when I identify a problem or concern in the classroom: I talked to the children about it. By this time, they had noticed the lack of writing in their folders as well because they were getting ready for student-led conferences. This awareness prompted lots of talk about setting goals to write more and to write first and then draw. I became aware of the importance of referencing mini lessons where we talked about writing that is meaningful to the writer and the reader. And, rightly or wrongly, I did encourage them to write first as a way to balance all the drawing that had been happening for the last three months.

What makes this somewhat easy is that my students love writing workshop. They love that they can sit anywhere they want, work with a friend or not, choose what they’re going to write or draw about that day, and share their pieces of writing with everyone. This is not a minor accomplishment as I wouldn’t be able to talk to them about increasing the amount of writing they do unless they already loved the idea of writing.

Over the last few weeks I have noticed more writing and increased talk about new ideas for stories. My favorite has been the Mommy Jail series. And, the other day one of my most challenging (to me) students said, “Señora Waingort, you know what? I get a lot of ideas from the class.” And, he mentioned how a read-aloud I had done recently had sparked an idea for a story.

Sometimes I just need to be patient. It will come. It will come.

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The Power of Writing

Recently, several families at my school experienced the devastating effects of a fire that left five families on their block without a home. Fortunately, no one was hurt but one family at our school lost all of their belongings. The different communities this family belongs to have offered various levels of support as they look for other places to live and try to reconstruct their lives. Some people are offering monetary support and some are just providing a bed to sleep in for the children and parents.

Our principal sent a letter to all the families in our school detailing the situation and asking parents to consider making a donation for this family in our school. On the back of the principal’s letter there is a simple drawing and a brief note from one of my former students. Having been evacuated in the early morning hours and probably wondering herself if her home and family would be safe, she wrote a simple missive to her friend calling her a hero. My former student’s mother realizing how upsetting this event had been for her child prompted her daughter to draw and write about it as a way to soothe her fears.

As I read the correspondence that went home, I marvelled at the power of writing. The principal recognizing the urgency of the situation prompted by my former student’s writing decided to use her piece of writing to spur others to action. He recognized that the fire is being discussed and worried about among the children. So, how can we reassure our students and take an action that may help this family in their time of need? Teachers agreed to discuss the letter in our classrooms and to urge the children to talk about what happened with their parents.

It is events like this that reconfirm for me the power of using writing as a way to make sense of our world and to consider how we can have an impact on what happens around us. I know this little girl and her mom are feeling very empowered right now.