Gardens of Young Writers
I forgot to ask my husband to look after my herb garden when I went to New York last week. He had an exceedingly busy week at work. Minding the herb garden was probably the last thing on his mind when he got home at 8:00 p.m. I returned to find my herb garden an overgrown mess! Half of my mint plant, not pictured, rotted. Therefore, I went outside on Sunday afternoon, pruning shears in hand, to tend to it. My neighbor saw me pruning and asked, “Why didn’t you ask me to help out while you were away?” (I didn’t want to bother you, I replied.) “You could have,” she said. (I know, I answered sheepishly.) I spent a half hour pruning the chives, dill, mint, and oregano. Next, I removed as many dead leaves from the basil and sage. Finally, I cut off the flowering blossoms on the rosemary and tarragon. The sky was gray when I finished so I opted not to water everything knowing that nature would take care of the final step for me.
A new school year is beginning. More than any other time of year, we have to take care of the gardens of young writers if our writing workshops if want to see them flourish. Now is the time to look at each student’s writing and think about what s/he needs to grow as a writer. What weeds (bad habits) do we need to pull? What needs pruning (writing moves we can confer-into) so it can get stronger? What needs some extra water (kids who don’t see themselves as writers) if it’s going to thrive? If we think about these questions when we look at our students as writers before school begins and in the first few weeks of school, then it is likely we will have a fruitful year with them in writing workshop.
Teaching writing is a lot like gardening. It requires constant attention. Take a week away from your garden (or conferring or writing workshop) and things will get messy, requiring more effort to restore it. Do a little bit of work on it each day to make it better and it will yield an exquisite bounty.