Just Listen. Just Listen. Just Listen.

These two words cycle through my mind every, oh I don’t know, maybe, every five seconds during writing workshop (and other times of the day, but I’ll keep focused on being a teacher of writers).

Just listen.

Just listen.

Just listen.

It’s a mantra that I’m trying to program into myself. I’ve been saying these two words over and over for more than a decade.

Just listen.

Just listen.

Just listen.

On the positive side, some days I do this well.

On the flip side, I’m still repeating it to myself.

Just listen.

Just listen.

Just listen.

When I remember to listen, when I put aside my predetermined notions, when I want to hear what students are doing, I increase my chances of teaching to the point of need.

Just listen.

Just listen.

Just listen.

I think sometimes we make the mistake of thinking the point of need is a bull’s eye, a teeny-tiny micro blip of teaching points and we have to get it just right in order to “do it right.”

This isn’t true. It’s a lie we believe because we want to be good at what we do. The point of need isn’t about hitting a bull’s eye, it’s about being on the right side of the forest.

What’s the quickest way to get on the right side of the forest in a writing conference?

Just listen.

Just listen.

Just listen.

I mean, really listen. It’s more than hearing the words. It’s seeing how their words are matching their actions as writers. It’s figuring out if they are headed in a direction and determining where they came from. When I listen to a student talk about his writing, I’m letting go of the things I want him to do, and instead I’m listening to what he’s already doing as a writer and figuring out a way to help him do it better.

The heart of what we do in writing workshop is a focus on children, not content. It’s easy to lose this focus. There is much pressure to conform and to teach rigorously and to do this writing or prepare for that test, which is why after more than a decade I still have to repeat this mantra to myself.

Just listen.

Just listen.

Just listen.

When I listen to students I rarely go wrong.

For more about this idea, check out this post I wrote about a year ago in response to something I realized at NCTE from people sharing their learning from Don Graves.