Having the responsibility of raising a human being is a daunting task. Parents, guardians, aunts, grandpas, and all those who bear this responsibility find themselves asking, “What do I do about this?”
When it comes to the education of a child, those in the parental role will often take to a task with the best of intentions. Frustration and misunderstanding, while within any process of helping educate a child, can often feel like a point of no return if tasked without the tools to proceed with the desired outcome in mind. I often find when parental figures ask me for help within the writing progress of their child the conversation is often layered with plucking out the misunderstandings and filling in the holes with information. It is easy to become frustrated, as the child’s teacher, with those tasked to raise these little humans. However, opening the door to these conversations is a way to really tackle the problem and work toward a solution that betters both the children and those tasked with this big responsibility. Here are five common “fill in the blank” phrases followed by possible concerns we might hear as teachers on the other side of the table and ways to respond while assisting those who have the best of intentions.
She just won’t write ________
- letters the right way.
- so I can read it.
As a kindergarten teacher, I would often hear concern about a child who was writing a letter backward or scribbling. Often just sharing some encouraging words helped to put their mind at ease. I also found that sharing the expectation for the conventional work of writing was helpful. Stacey shared a wonderful post earlier this week all about conventions. Parental figures often only see the “mistakes” and sometimes assume something is wrong. When we are able to show how the child is sharing a message or a story, breathing becomes a little easier. Also, showing examples of other typical student work can be helpful (with names removed of course). When there is truly a problem or concern, we obviously want to share this early and often. Coaching the adults in our students’ lives to appropriately tackle real issues is important. However, when the concern is coming from a misunderstanding of expectations, sharing the strengths of what the child is demonstrating is equally important. Like any young writer, children make progress over time in different areas within different parts of the year. Share what the next step is for the child and model how you work on this skill in the classroom.
Why is he still ________
- crossing everything out?
- writing so big?
- below grade-level?
When I looped with my kindergartners to first-grade several years back, I remember being delighted by the progress and new skills my writers were taking on. I also remember that sometimes the adults in their lives grew concerned that some issues like writing large or more gradual progress were a concern. I think it is always so important to hear the concerns of parents and respond with sensitivity and evidence when we disagree. Talking parents through the process of writing and how skills may ebb and flow is an important aspect of our conversation. Anytime we add new skills we often regress a little in a different area. However, very often, overall, a student is making progress in many areas simultaneously. Some may just be more visible than others. Showing a progression of skills across the year can be a helpful tool to share. Below is an example of a progression of various skills across years. You could easily make your own continuum of skills, or use a resource that shows the range of little steps across time. In my building, we have access to a few writing samples from each year a student is in our building. It is sometimes nice to pull out a writing sample from two years before to show just how much progress the child has made.
How do I tell her ________
- it doesn’t make sense?
- there is too much there?
- there isn’t enough?
We are teachers. We figure out positive ways to help students navigate their writing every day. Parental figures are often not teachers. Having the patience and will to work through a child’s writing is difficult. When I hear adults talk about how their child is writing too much, not enough, or just a bunch of nonsense I compare it to cooking. When we are learning a new recipe we might get the measurements wrong, we might add too much of something, or we might just order out because we don’t even know what to make. Sometimes, we need to give students the time to navigate their work. Let them taste (reread) the writing a few times. Let them stew for a while on some ideas that might not make any sense but potentially could become delicious. Again, it comes back to making space for understanding that writing is an ongoing process that all writers are continually mastering. It is often one ingredient, or step, at a time. As long as the child is taking the steps, the pieces will come closer together.
When I try ________ it never works.
- making him write
- correcting his spelling
- telling him what to fix
Recognizing a parent or guardians desire to be involved can be valuable. It is also important to recognize when the involvement is having the opposite effect on the child’s progress. Those eager to work with their child may just need some appropriate and approachable ideas. For the child who never has anything to write about, encouraging the family to talk together and create a list of topics from funny vacations, to silly relatives, and favorite activities can be a positive starting point. Beginning a family dialogue journal is also a wonderful way for parents to be involved in their child’s writing life and share a little of their own all in one place. Kathleen has shared wonderful ideas on this topic in the past. Creating authentic ways to share writing together whether it is creating the grocery list or writing a letter to cousins far away opens positive opportunities for families to get involved in their child’s writing life.
Well, her ________ was never good at writing either.
Is it true that we often pass things on to the children we care for? Sure, it can be true. I think we also all know that every individual is just that, an individual. Being “good” at anything is always weighted with the subjective authority of the beholder. Each person deserves the respect, time, and patience necessary to make a path toward success. Sometimes a parental figure will have their mind made up, and it can be difficult to get beyond the wall. However, when you sense an opening, take it. With that opening, take full advantage of any success the child exhibits to help the child and the family see the individuality and strengths as they come forward. Creating an identity in association with any content area is impacted by our attitude and the attitudes of those in our life. How things are presented to us as learners are often what shape how we feel. Lanny’s post last week on The Power of Language is a great reminder of the affect our words can have. When a child comes to our classroom, it is our job to have an impact on their identity as a writer and to share and shape the way others in their lives see the milestones a child can reach.
We hope you will join us for our Twitter Chat on November 6th at 8:30 EST. Join us as we continue the conversation of predictable problems in the writing workshop, and problem solve together! Below is also information about our giveaway for this series. A great tool for every writing teacher. GIVEAWAY INFORMATION:
- This giveaway is for a copy of The Unstoppable Writing Teacher: Real Strategies for the Real Classroom. Thanks to Heinemann Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter this giveaway.)
- For a chance to win this copy of The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, November 5th at 7:00 p.m. EDT. Melanie Meehan will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, November 6th.
- Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Melanie can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
- If you are the winner of the book, Melanie will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – UNSTOPPABLE WRITING TEACHER BOOK. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.