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Let Their Writing Take Your Breath Away

Last week I was selecting some student writing to share with participants of the Conferring in Writing Seminar I’m leading at Penn State Harrisburg tomorrow.  I didn’t want to go down to my basement, which is where I store most of my former students’ writing samples.  Therefore, I decided to go through my electronic files instead.

During the years I was in Rhode Island, I made a concerted effort to scan and save a lot of my students’ writing on to my computer.  However, when the unthinkable happened in 2009 (i.e., The laptop I used in the classroom, which my husband began using as his PC when we moved to Pennsylvania, died.  The hard drive had to be re-imaged, which meant I lost all of the student work I had scanned from 2007 – 2009.), I lost two year’s worth of scanned writer’s notebook entries, in-process writing, and published writing.  For some deranged reason, I never paid for Carbonite on my school laptop, which meant I lost everything I didn’t have have hard copies of forever.

I have a small amount of student work saved electronically on my home computer, which I thankfully back-up on a regular basis.  I was looking for a specific student’s memoir, which I was unable to find.  I grew frustrated, but instead found something else written by him instead.  I clicked on the document, which was saved under the title of  Mentored Poem by C…  I had no recollection of what I would find when I double clicked on the document.  But I quickly had my breath taken away when I read it.  It was a poem called “The End” and was mentored after the free verse poetry in Sharon Creech’s Heartbeat.  The poem, which is about what he imagines his final days on Earth will be like as an old man, contained two footnotes.  The poem’s images are vivid and the footnotes were so expertly done I was struck by his ability to mentor himself after Creech.  I must’ve made a lot out of the poem when the student wrote it in his notebook nearly four years ago since he chose to revise it for his poetry portfolio.  (I typed it up for him at home, since he didn’t have a home computer, so he could proudly display it proudly in his Poetry Portfolio.)  Four years later, I am moved by the writer’s vulnerability and honesty in his poem.

Have you allowed yourself to have your breath taken away by a piece of student’s writing lately?  Please share a bit about what a student has done to move you through their writing.

Stacey Shubitz View All

I am a literacy consultant who focuses on writing workshop. I've been working with K-6 teachers and students since 2009. Prior to that, I was a fourth and fifth-grade teacher in New York City and Rhode Island.

I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).

I live in Central Pennsylvania with my husband and children. In my free time, I enjoy swimming, doing Pilates, cooking, baking, making ice cream, and reading novels.

4 thoughts on “Let Their Writing Take Your Breath Away Leave a comment

  1. A student will never walk again; students did not know the true story of what happened–she always told them about a car accident. I encouraged her to write about the tough stuff. She did, but with the agreement she would not have to share her story out loud with anyone. At the end of the year when we reflected on our best works, she decided she was ready to share her the true story with her entire class. She worked through the worst thing that ever happened to her through her memoir/narrative. Not only that, she showed her optimism and her love of life through it all. When it comes down to it, it is in those moments of catharsis and growth that we are racing to the top and not leaving children behind. It is in those moments of sharing our humanity, vulnerability, and perseverance, that we all become better people.


  2. Two very powerful pieces of student writing come to mind when I reflect back in a 35 year career as a teacher. Both pieces really powered me forward.

    A seven year old Emotional Support student wrote:
    Some people do to war.
    Some people are hungry.
    Hunger is a war in your stomach.

    That piece was purchased by the Presbeyterian Church.

    Another first grader wrote about visiting her daddy in jail. He couldn’t give her a hug because he was in chains, Her classrooom teacher didn’t want to hang it on the Writing Wall.


  3. Stacey,
    Your question gets me thinking about one of my 4th grade writers who amazes me with his ability to weave together his thoughts. He is wise beyond his years, incorporating sophisticated vocabulary in just the right places. He infuses metaphors and imagery that blows me away and takes my breath away. The other amazing part is the thoughts seem to flow right out the tip of his pencil. Thanks.


  4. I don’t have many students anymore, but I recently taught a memoir class to a small group of middle school students. We spend the usual pre-writing time, sharing examples, listing what a memoir is, and the best part, sharing stories. I met only 5 times with this group; they did a lot of their work outside the group. When we got to the sharing of the writing, one student showed very well that she understood what memoir was all about. In a few short paragraphs she showed her vulnerable side, a jealousy of her older sister (whom I also taught several years ago) in a wonderful piece. I was in awe of her willingness to write this.


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