I swore after Passionate Learners 2nd edition came out that I would not write any more books. That it would be a long time before I wrote anything else besides on this blog because who did I think I was? Why did I feel that I had anything at all to write and give to others? Yet, sometimes opportunities arise that we cannot say no to, where we wake up with this little idea in our head and then all of a sudden it turns into a bigger thought and we find ourselves questioning, and pondering, and then writing in our mind at all times until we know that perhaps there is a book in there somewhere.
I said yes to those ideas and now find myself writing two separate books, with the same deadline of May 30th, within the same realm (literacy), and I have been pulling my hair out trying to find just the right words, to make it worth anyone’s time, to make it fresh, and I must admit; it has been an excruciatingly hard process. Sleepless nights, frustrations, and imposter syndrome has haunted me for the past few months. It has not been pretty, and yet, within the process of writing, I have uncovered a few realizations of what our students must face when they write, of how frustrated they must feel at times when we tell them to just write, to just create, to just get something down and do this assignment so we can assess them. These realizations are causing me to question the very process that we use when we teach writing and ponder how we can make it better. How we can make it work for every child and not just those that already seem to have figured this writing thing out. Because I don’t think I am doing enough to really teach real writing, so these are my driving questions.
Do we know who our students are as writers? Do they? Is there time within our curriculum to really get to know students, and also for them to get know themselves better, so that what they write is meaningful to them. And not just when they write a personal narrative, but is there a personal lens of the world present in some way in anything they write? Can we see the individual in the assignment or are they all the same? My struggle has been to stay true to myself while still adapting to the purpose, to write a book that feels like my book and not just a poor imitation of other people’s work. Are we allowing our students to infuse their writing with their own personal essence or do they even know who they are as writers to do this?
Do we allow them ownership over the process? I do not follow a linear path when I write and never have. Yet, in our classrooms we often expect students to follow the same path and move along at the same pace. This does not lead to more authentic writing, nor does it lead to most students even identifying as writers. So why do we keep doing it? Do we discover, discuss, and reflect on each other’s writing processes? Do we find beauty within the varied ways that students create while still exposing them to many styles?
Do students understand the purpose of the writing? One of my largest struggles has been that my purpose for one book kept shifting, that what started as one idea morphed into another and it shows in the disjointed chapters and unclear thoughts. Do we allow time for students to just think of what they are trying to create, not just the how? Do we plan time to discuss and dissect the why as a community? Do we give them time to sketch out or discuss or create in such a way that they are not committing themselves to a product just yet, but instead feel like they can explore various options, even when we have curriculum to teach and content to cover?
Do we edit with kindness? I have faced reviews and edits where only flaws were discussed, all in the spirit of fixing my mistakes, yet it wears you down. After a while it plants doubt as to your own writing ability and these doubts can soon create writers block. When we edit with students do we know what we need to protect? Do we know what is most important to them? Do we speak genuinely of their strengths or get right to the parts that need fixing? Are there parts that we leave alone because in the grand scheme of things it may not be important?
Do we set up time for them to be immersed? The only reason any book is being written is because I have scheduled it in every single night (30 minutes at least). I find comfort within the routine and also a determination to finish the draft. Every night I make progress, even when it is painful, yet in our classrooms we are so dictated by our schedule and timelines that we often push students to create, to produce, just so we can move on. How do we give students time to explore and write every day when we are faced with the constraint of 45 minutes and so much to learn?
Do we encourage writing partnerships? My mother edits my work and my friends discuss ideas with me. Writing can be a vulnerable process so do we allow students to self-select writing peers within our community? Do we give them the time and flexibility to use each other as writing partners, and not in a conscripted way, but in a way that works for them?
Do we create room for their emotions? There have been nights of wringing my hands over the computer trying to find just the right words where only the assurance of my husband that I am not a fool for trying to write has helped me come back to the dreaded process. Where I have had to take a deep breath and realize that the reason these books weigh so much in my life is because I care deeply about their message. That within my emotional reaction to the process is evidence of its importance. Do we create writing communities where students are encouraged to become emotionally attached to what they create or do we simply not have time? Do we encourage them to use those emotions as a way to fuel their writing and their own self-discovery?
I still have a hard time calling myself a writer, even with 3 books published and more than 1300 blog posts written. I still feel like a fraud every time I tell someone that I write, almost as if the title has not been earned just yet, and don’t get me started about considering myself an author, I am long way from that one. So how do our students feel in our writing communities? Do we embrace and discover the whole process of what it means to write, to be a writer, and use it as a strength when we develop our craft or do we skip over it as we try to get students to write? Are we truly creating communities of writers or do we just teach writing? There is a huge difference. The choice is ours.
If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books. While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher. Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, so until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please seethis page.