I remember the day I ran over to my partner teacher’s classroom. If my memory serves me well, I may have darted over to her classroom, flailing a single sheet in front of her and excitedly showed her the work. It was the work of one of my students. He, a student who could be described as one that did not enjoy writing at the start of the year, entered onto new ground. Something in his paper stood out like a lightning bolt, it did to me at least. To my partner teacher, it may have taken some pointing out. Somewhere in the middle of his writing, pushing away any opportunity for a negative lens, evidence of critical thinking.
Why did this matter so much? It mattered because my purpose is to teach students to think, reflect, and consider while learning to love reading and writing.
“My job is to teach you to think,” often slips out of my mouth, as I work to set the path for them. When students begin to put into words or articulate what they truly think or feel changes their physiology. This is a critical piece to keep at the forefront, when teaching at a Title I school, where trauma is common.
“Feeling listened to and understood changes our physiology. Being able to articulate a complex feeling and having our feelings recognized, lights up our limbic brain…” – Bessel van der Kolk
What happens to students when they learn the value of their voice and develop agency matters. They change. We have the power to change how students walk forward into the world. I’m reminded of some words of wisdom Lucy Calkins shared with me last summer. When I shared my worry about the trauma our students are living and asked how we can respectfully acknowledge their experiences and trauma without pushing it aside to dive into the curriculum to fill in what they’ve missed.
“The truth is that reading and writing… throughout history, our history talks about how reading and writing gave people their life… gave them a way to find beauty.” As I listened to her words, I imagined the experiences of my students and instantly began searching for ways to bring them to that beauty. “What we have is literacy… giving kids the ability to use reading and writing to make meaning out of their lives… we have to really believe in that,” she ended. I believe in that fully.
So as I look around the room, it is as it has always been for me when I see my students working hard to write. I see beauty in almost everything they write, and it is important that I hold that skill close. The skill of seeing the beauty first helps writers grow.
Our classroom is unique, but sometimes there are students who take on the work in similar ways. Sometimes they dive in fully first. This is the start of a journey of two students. One student is a native Texan, and the other has been in the country just over a year and a handful of days. Their languages and cultures differ, yet, they have some things in common.
They both write with great fluency.
They are both gifted storytellers.
And they are both on their own writing journey.
In order to reference their work, I will call them Sam and Lucas. There is beauty beyond measure in their writing work. We are at the start of our eighth week into the school year and they have both been writing daily for almost six weeks, in class and at home. In order to get kids on fire as writers, we begin our journey with building fluency.
We are living a pandemic, working through a virtual, in person, and at home learning. Things are different.
How hard do I push them to grow, knowing they may have trauma?
What do I want them to take when they leave me?
Will there be enough time?
Where do I begin?
There is great purpose for writing. Will the school year allow us the possibility for us to work enough to understand a writer’s purpose? Join us in our journey.