Editors note: Centre County Teacher-Writers is a group of teachers who gather to write about life in the classroom and the issues that concern them as educators. The group includes pre-K-12 teachers and teacher educators from the Centre Region who support each other as writers. Columns by members of this group run on the Views page each month.
When I was a student, there was nothing more daunting than staring at a blank sheet of paper, knowing I had to fill it with my own thoughts.
Why couldnt I just complete a worksheet? That way, Id simply search for the right answer and plug it in. None of this open-ended, needing-to-dig-deep-into-my-brain stuff. I know many of my students feel the same way I did. Its much more difficult to produce your own art than to answer questions about someone elses.
After 14 years in the classroom, I finally know why I enjoy teaching writing more than any other subject. The writing process requires us to think critically, reflect on our experiences and examine whats important to us as individuals. Through this natural process of self-reflection and examination, we begin to see ourselves more clearly.
Regardless of whether Im leading a unit on persuasive writing, memoir or poetry, student choice is imperative. Kids must have the freedom to choose their topics, and they must be given time in school to write. And Ive found ways to be productive while they write.
I move from seat to seat, checking in with as many students as possible. Ive shifted from the laborious often ignored written comments on their papers to brief face-to-face conferences. These frequent interactions provide the students with useful feedback that can be applied immediately.
When reflecting on their sixth-grade writing experience, my students often mention the conferences as being a crucial aspect in their growth.
If I am asking my kids to become honest, reflective writers, I need to do the same.
I routinely share my own writing with kids. It allows them to see that adults actually do this on their own, without it being assigned. Its been difficult, and sometimes Ive been apprehensive, but the kids are always riveted not because I have anything exceptional to say, but rather, because Ive simply been willing to share pieces of my life outside the classroom.
There is a point each year when students begin to see writing as an opportunity instead of an assignment. As their pride and confidence grow, they want to share their work. At the end of each writing period, I try to give students a chance to read pieces of their stories, poems and essays aloud to the class.
Kids value hearing one anothers work, and the positive feedback that follows naturally strengthens the classroom community.
Once students begin to create pieces they care about, editing and revising become relevant and valued. Rather than teaching grammatical skills in isolation, we can apply these in context, allowing kids to hone and polish their craft.
Im hopeful that by the end of the school year, kids will stare at that empty paper and view it in much the same way I do not as a burden, but as an opportunity to learn more about themselves and to produce some pretty amazing art along the way.
David Rockower is a teacher at Mount Nittany Middle School.