Documenting Our Learning

Sometimes I think about the amazing work happening in writing workshops, and then wonder if anyone else notices. Sometimes the things that are most amazing are small bits that pack big meaning. Sometimes the most amazing work can be easily missed.

Often young writers’ (or even old writers’) talk is ahead of their walk. We can talk about things we want to do as writers, but it’s a little more difficult to put all those things into practice. In kindergarten, kids can tell me poets notice teeny-tiny details and that they are going to write about a blade of grass…but then their poem ends up including the blade of grass and a bug and a cloud and the sun.

I thought about how this happened in my seventh grade writing workshop too. Students could tell me how to punctuate a subordinate clause…but then in their writing, subordinate clauses were hanging out all over looking like sentence fragments.

I’ve been challenging myself to share the gamut of student work in a classroom. It seems sometimes we only share the very best. Sometimes I feel like if I want to validate the work as being really good, then I need to share the really good examples. It is hard for me to admit this in black and white because it is so far from my heart and my work with children.

In the bubble of a classroom, I’m diligent about helping the entire writing community celebrate the strengths of every member. Yet in a more public arena, such as this blog or in my presentations, I find myself sharing only the best. And what does that mean, exactly? “The best.” What’s that?

So I’ve been challenging myself to show the amazing bits that are happening in workshops. The tiny successes that lead to big meaning. Not perfect pieces of writing, but growing, learning writers. It’s pushed me to consider ways to document the easily unseen, easily missed moments in writing workshop.

All of this to say, I think I accomplished a tiny bit of this challenge to myself. In Deborah Nelson’s kindergarten class we’ve been immersed in Mo Willem’s books. As Deborah and I reflected on writing workshop, we were constantly struck by the learning and the new understandings students were gaining. The thing is, we couldn’t always tell just from their work. Their talk and actions during workshop were crucial to knowing the extensive learning that was happening. As we prepared to share our books with families and friends, I had a nagging feeling that outsiders would miss the amazing bits of learning that happened over the course of our study.

It’s the combination of sharing product and process that makes a celebration the most powerful. I’m coming to believe it is essential to help others understand the process behind the product. Our work is about much more than making cool things. Our work is about helping every single child develop the habits and skills to communicate with the world. It’s big. I tried to capture it here. (Yes, it breaks my rule of sharing videos…less than four minutes…but I’m hoping some of you will still take the time to watch it. It lays out an author study and combines students’ voices, the teacher’s voice, and my voice (as the writing coach).

Mostly I’m excited to see where this kind of thinking leads as I strive to document the bits — both big and small — of all students’ growth as communicators.