If you’re like me, you care about interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences as much as literacy. You’re also probably a little cuckoo for rice cookers, arts and clothes of the Americana, and you hoard pens as if the apocalypse were going to wipe out all sources of ink.
I’ve been trying to hammer home to my soccer-scholars that we are all makers of print and text. We are writers. Writers write about anything, and when they write, they consciously shape the environment around them to make it suitable to their writing. Writers are magicians. At the beginning of the school year, I introduced my students to Collaborize, essentially a “walled garden” for the students to blog and respond to various prompt questions on aspects of their experiences in a new school that just started.
For this particular prompt question, I had the students write about their writing. I titled the exercise, “What is your Ideal Writing Environment?” because I was thinking with the end in mind. I had the students choose one or two salient experiences with writing. I asked them to think about what messages and responses have they received from their teachers and mentors about their writing; also, I had them reflect on how these experiences may have influenced their attitudes, experiences, and current thinking about writing and the writing process. Finally, I had them conclude their writing in thinking about how these experiences have led them to architect their ideal writing environment, and the outcomes were eye-opening.
My students are currently thirteen and fourteen years of age, 8th and 9th graders. I have discovered I cannot approach each of them the same way when I teach them about writing. One of the students needs inspiration and nature to encourage him to write. His writing process, even for expository essays, is get the “sloppy copy” out of me. However, he is natural procrastinator who waits for the spark, so the only thing I require is that he turn in his “sloppy copy” a few days earlier than the rest. Our conversations on writing consist of cogitating big ideas and seeing the big picture.
Still, another student requires the 6-trait writing process: brainstorming, prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, publishing. His writing consists of many run-on sentences; I like to say he sometimes puts the pen before the head, and doesn’t leave space or time for the head to catch up. Ordering his paragraphs and his thoughts is a challenge in his writing. For this particular student, I must first show him his strengths. He recognizes there must be a topic sentence; he recognizes paragraphs require main ideas and indentation. He knows that formal essays should not have contractions, and that a conclusion should restate and somehow enhance the message of the paper. Nonetheless, he struggles with putting this all together.
I am in a precarious position yet also in a beneficial position, nonetheless. This student is not in an English class of twenty other students. In actuality, there are only five students in the entire school. He is one of two 8th graders. The attention he can get is not the issue, but it’s the kind of attention he needs. Do I take him away from the writing of his paper to teach him a short lesson on run-on sentences and the different kinds of organization in a paper: spatial order, chronological order, etc.? Or, do I let him come to recognize these orders through various samples of writing and ask him what he notices and puzzles over?
I orient most of my teaching toward the latter because I believe the student comes to recognize the concept naturally through the exploration of the material. My teaching becomes guidance and diagnostician. Did the student recognize the concept on his own when compared to other types of writing? If not, then I may teach to inform, rather than teach to guide.
If you’re like me, you love teaching because of the challenges it requires in how you highlight your students’ citizenship.