For the last ten years, most of my professional life has focused on supporting teachers. On most days, I love it. I love being a nerdy explorer of new possibilities. I love being an admirer of a teacher’s craft. I love being a reflective thinking partner. And yet, there are moments when the classroom calls to me. I miss having my own crew of young learners to teach every day, so I decided to creatively scratch the itch. I set up a regular meet up with a few students, and set off to create my own little literacy crew.
Like most teachers, I too feel the need to be prepared, if not planned, for my online coaching sessions. To help myself get ready, I ask the students that I am working with to let me know their hopes and intentions for our study before each session. One night, I found this message in my inbox.
Hello, Ms. Dana! I would like to discuss some out of school writing that I want to start doing. Online school made me stop having the urge to write, but I want to start again. Maybe we can discuss ideas or the characters?
Ouch! I know first hand how much heart and energy teachers are putting into making online learning meaningful and inspiring, so this one hurt. After sending her a quick and encouraging message back, I committed to doing a bit of digging. I needed to understand exactly what made this enthusiastic writer pull back. In the end, what she shared had little to do with online learning, and everything to do with loss of ownership.
The current state of our world has all of us feeling like control has slipped through our fingers. We are yearning for some sense of stability and may find that our longing to put our own lives back in order is trickling into our classrooms. I get it. I want that control back too, but pulling ownership away from our students is causing them to turn away from the joy of writing.
So what can we do? Try to keep these tips in mind when working with your own young writers:
- One way that we might be taking control away from our students is by becoming the singular audience for their writing (and essentially the only feedback voice that matters). Be sure to make the choice of audience part of your teaching throughout the whole process, and commit to making the time and space for peer feedback. You are not the audience for your students’ writing.
- Remember that a piece your student shares with you is not your writing! Our goal as educators is to offer strategies as next steps, not tell them what to write. Check in on your own feedback chats. Avoid language like, “You should…” and “Why don’t you…?” Instead, try out phrases like, “One way you might try to… (name a skill) is by… (name a strategy).
- Look for spaces to offer choice. In every unit of study there are going to be constraints. However, there are also places where students can and should make all the decisions. Before teaching a unit, name all of the opportunities for choice that are possible. Can we offer a choice of topic? Structure? Genre? Audience? Feedback partner? Goal?
Our goal as writing teachers isn’t to make sure students get an A. It isn’t to make sure they’ve mastered the grade level standards. Our goal is to let them know that writing is something that can be used to explore ourselves, connect with others, and create change. Writers write for themselves and their readers. They don’t write for teachers.
One thought on “Hey Teach… My Writing’s Not For You”
Dana, thanks for a thoughtful and insightful post. As a middle elementary teacher, I’ve had many students who didn’t understand that writing was anything other than a “school” activity that needed to be done a certain way or follow a certain formula. You’ve got some great tips here, and I appreciate being able to read and share them.