What not to write

I came across a blog post on Two Writing Teachers (if you haven’t read this blog, you need to).  The post was a collection of tweets related to writing.  They’re great.  You really should take some time and read them.  I’m looking forward to next month’s installment.

There were a few that catch my eye. I might write about those another time but tonight I wanted to write some of my reactions to

(these really are reactions and not at all focused–I did not do an outline, Mom)  How much time do people really spend on writing things that shouldn’t be put down somewhere?  I think it depends on the purpose of the writing.  I think about the many blog posts I’ve written but never published.  Would those things be considered pieces of writing that should not have been written?  I don’t think so.  Just because I didn’t publish them doesn’t mean they didn’t fulfill their purpose–mind dumping.

After thinking about myself and the personal writing I’m doing, I start thinking about the writing that teachers are asking students to do (and I think about the writing I did as a student).  Do the teachers know what is important to write and ask their students to do that writing?  Are some teachers not sure what is important for their students to write?  I think the answer would be yes to both questions.

There is lots of excellent writing taking place in classrooms all over but then, right down the hall, there are classrooms where the students are writing what some would call things that they really don’t need to write.

I’m a big fan of Lucy Calkins and have kind of used her Units of Study in my classroom since the books came out. I say “kind of” because I really believe the lessons she has outlined in those books are really a suggestion for teachers to get started and not to be considered a scripted program.  Reggie Routman is another author I’ve use as a base for my writing workshop.  One of these wonderful women talked about when modeling stories to students, the stories need to something that the students might actually do, or have done.  I shouldn’t write about my trip to London because many of my students will never leave the country.  Instead, I should write about something that they might do–like have a HUGE black snake cross the road.  I’m asking them to write true stories that have happened to them so they are able to think about a beginning, middle, and end to their stories. I’m not asking them to rely on an imagination that is ever changing, which means there’s a greater possibility for an ever changing beginning, middle, and end.

How does this connect to the tweet?  I think we teachers ask students do write about things that are beyond their comprehension and therefore the final product is not going to what we want.  Yes there’s a place for creative writing, but students need to write memoir, reactions to the texts they are reading, options, and other informational texts.  The students have the background knowledge to write something really well instead of just relying on their imagination to write something that is just ok.

One last ramble on this tweet and then I’ll be done.  I know I was just talking about the product of writing and that is not were the focus should be in a writing classroom.  I think this tweet would be great to include on a class graffiti wall when students are revising their writing.  It is hard for any writer to think that part of their great work needs to be removed because it hurts the piece as a whole, instead of helping.  The writing is like a piece of them and removing some text is like removing an arm, leg, finger, lips…

Now it is time for me to practice what I preached and go back and revise this piece (or at least edit it).  I hope this tweet makes you think and reflect about the writing you’re doing in your classroom.  I hope it helps others think about what writing doesn’t need to happen so there’s room for the writing that needs to happen.

Two days in a row

It has been a while since I’ve written here and even longer since I’ve written two posts in two days.  I was just thinking through my day trying to come up with something to write about this evening.  There are many things I could write about such as why do kids keep asking adults the same question after they’ve been given an answer they don’t like?  It is the early version of seeking a second medical option?  Another thought was what lessons are our children learning when we have to have a school holiday party 2-days before the actual party because we share a PTA with another school and they’re doing their party on Friday?  I think I’ll write about those things later because tonight I’m going to write about writing.

One of my favorite subjects to teach is writing.  I don’t know if I do a great job at it but I do think my students’ writing improves greatly from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.  Okay, so a little reality check.  My students are in kindergarten.  Many of them start the year barely able to write their name and all the letters of the alphabet.  It would be hoped, and expected, that my students would be able to write more than just their name and the letters.  I am a bit of a black sheep in my grade-level when it comes to writing instruction and I blame myself for that.  Most of my other colleagues have students do fill in the sentence type of writing, or some prompt based writing lesson.  That is a system that works for them and they are happy with the results they are getting.  That is fine with me.  I, on the other hand, teach writing in a workshop style, similar to Calkins and Routman recommend.  So I have genre themes that last for about a month.  In that month I teach about the genre and the students write in that genre.  Currently we are working on song writing.  Actually it is more accurate to call it song parody writing.  We listen to a song, many times, on YouTube (I would share the song but I am currently trying to get an article about this writing published. I’ll add the link once my article has been picked up).  Once the students have a good grasp of the music structure of the song, we start having a little fun with the words.  Using music that students already know also helps free up their brain to focus on some skills, such as leaving space between words and -ing endings.  As a class they have been working on their own parodies for about 2 weeks and it amazes me the number of students who are not picking up on the pattern of the song–or are not interested in going back and checking their work.  This development is shocking to the reading specialist and I today.  We spent a good week working up to having the students write their own songs by working on leaving space between words and -ing ending.  These are the two things that are being left out of the samples we saw.  So here’s kind of a question to the larger (although not terribly huge) audience of this blog about how to help students slow down and understand the importance of going back and looking over your writing before publishing?

Now it is my turn to look over what I’ve written (I did a very poor job) before I press publish–I’m starting to type words with closed eyes.

Task Avoidance

Is something I’m good at.  I know how to completely avoid a task.  I think I was recruited by the pros while I was still in elementary school.  While “cleaning my room” I would find old papers to read, notes and pictures to look at, clothes to try on…anything but clean and put away objects in my room.  Now, fast forward 20 years and I’m doing it again.  Here I am in the library with the knowledge that I need to really get to work on a paper but instead of actually buckling down and getting to work I have found other things to do instead.  I have checked the different blogs I like to read, I checked people.com (one of my favorite task avoidance sites to visit–I love the pictures), looked at the different comics available on Yahoo! News, checked all of my email, I haven’t called my mom or sister but that’s a usual, and now I am writing a new blog post.  While working on this task avoidance activity I got thinking: if I didn’t have the internet what would I do for my task avoidance activities?  Would I have a cleaner house, would I have all my lesson plans done from now to after the winter break, would I find a new way to cook kale…I don’t know!  Right now I KNOW I need to get this paper done and it’s not that I do not enjoy the topic I choose or the books I read (this one and this one), it’s just the starting.

So how does this feeling and knowledge get transfered into the classroom (at any level)?  As a teacher I know the task avoidance behaviors of many of my students (one of the favorites in the past years has been the bathroom) and have a pretty keen sense of when they need to go and when they need a break.  When do I allow this?  Does the observed task avoidance behaviors in many students mean the assignment is too hard, not hard enough, not interesting enough?  Did I explain what the assignment throughly?  Did I really give them guided practice?  Or is today just a day they don’t want to write?  Those questions are hard to answer, and while I freely ask those questions I understand that I do not have the answers to my questions.  Instead I want to remember that I avoided tasks when I was young and I continue to avoid but now the important change is after a good bit of avoiding, I do get to work.  So now, if reading this blog post was part of you avoiding a task I’m going to gently and loving tell you to STOP READING AND GET TO WORK!

Time to take my own advice!