What Do You See?

When we look at student writing, we see what we choose to see.

Take a look at this book, written by a preschool student.

Once upon a time there was a sea bear.  He scared the fish away.

Once upon a time there was a sea bear. He scared the fish away.

It was late at night and the girls were wide awake.

It was late at night and the girls were wide awake.

When it was early in the morning, the Murphys went to the beach.

When it was early in the morning, the Murphys went to the beach.

Then this night they were in the Moose Place.

Then this night they were in the Moose Place.

Then when we are sound asleep, the sea bear came.

Then when we are sound asleep, the sea bear came.

Then the sea bear growled, "Roar!"   "Eeeek!" I screamed.

Then the sea bear growled, “Roar!”
“Eeeek!” I screamed.

Sea Bear 6

Sea Bear 9

Katie raced into the room.

Then I saved the day.  The End.

Then I saved the day. The End.

 

What did you see?

My own daughter wrote this delightful tale, so I chose to see her beautiful story language.  The words from the thousands of bedtime stories we have read together at night sure showed up in her writing, didn’t they?  “It was late at night and the girls were wide awake…”  Yep, she knows how stories sound.  I was looking at this book with love in my heart, so I also chose to see the risks she took as a writer.  I smiled when she used “raced” instead of ran.  Brave writer. I chose to see and appreciate her drawings, so I took a moment to marvel at the three-story hotel, complete with staircases.

On the other hand, I suppose I could have chosen to see the words written in all capital letters, the lack of spaces, the misspelled words.  I could have noticed the lack of color variety in her illustrations. I could have, but I didn’t. I saw what I wanted to see because I looked at her writing with love.

I work in a school district where we are consistently reminded in all of our meetings to start by describing a student’s strengths.  I know a deficit-based approach to writing is not best practice. However, sometimes I think my teacher-eye is drawn to run-on sentences, misspelled words or poor conclusions, in spite of all I know to be true about teaching writing. If I am being honest, sometimes I guess I choose to see those things.

Looking at Maddie’s writing was a reminder to myself that we see what we choose to see.   We decide what our reaction will be. Will we appreciate and marvel, or will we criticize and complain? Next time you are sitting with a stack of essays, notebooks or drafts on your lap, remember: you will see what you want to see.