At the start of the pandemic, a teacher friend of mine noticed his students weren’t quite as independent as he thought they were. Students who were working from home, specifically, those who had access to technology seemed a bit helpless. It caused him to reflect and wonder about the levels of independence students experienced in school, before the pandemic. He questioned if students were given enough… enough permission to learn outside the lines, beyond the text, or past the limits of a worksheet. He questioned whether students truly experienced the practice of independence, problem-solving, and critical thinking. He wondered if what happened in the classroom was enough.
In the classroom, studying body language, tone of voice, social-emotional states, and other important pieces to a student’s life calls on a teacher’s attention. All of it impacts a student’s ability to develop independence and move forward with learning. It is especially impactful to students in a Title I school, where race, language, and poverty can be a critical component.
Writing is the greatest method of critical thinking. The lack of purposeful and authentic writing instruction has the potential of becoming one of the greatest forms of injustice for many students in Title I schools, especially for those who are labeled “At Risk.” Giving students permission to lean into learning, specifically in the practice of writing, is an important path to building the skills of independence, problem-solving, and critical thinking.
How do we give permission?
How we allow students to explore learning can be as important as learning itself. I’ve taught long enough to have experienced working my way out of the over-use of worksheets. I entered the field with a teaching degree, but I learned to teach from the master teachers I had the privilege to observe during my first years of teaching. Every year, I grew a bit better at what I did in the classroom. One thing I quickly learned on my own was that I am not Google, and I wasn’t about to pretend I knew it all. The kids in my classroom were quite amazing that first year and could easily teach any adult a thing or two. It was a fascinating challenge and I embraced it all. I gave myself permission to stand down, to make space for student voices, and stand up to encourage those who seemed much too nervous to speak. It seemed the right thing to do. After 15 years of teaching, allowing space for student agency and autonomy continues to be the right thing to do.
Where does our teaching tend to lean? Is there a place we can begin to lean students toward agency and autonomy?
Many years have gone past since my first year of teaching. Years ago, I welcomed the writing workshop model into our classroom. I embraced the practice and continue to work to improve on my practice every day. It is a responsibility I accept for the students who walk into the classroom and for myself.
The perfect balance between a teacher’s guidance and student agency does not exist. It is one of the reasons it can feel hard to accomplish at times. Finding a balance between guidance and agency is the careful, sometimes messy, daily act of pull and release. The constant shift to find balance is nothing that can be prescribed or packaged. It is a daily work and the practice of individualized learning for both the teacher and the student. Giving students permission to explore independence is important, but how much independence to give each student will depend on the individual needs of each student.
One last note and farewell…
It was difficult to share with the TWT team, and now with each of you, that I have decided to step away from my role as co-author of Two Writing Teachers.
The decision to step away required great thought and consideration. The needs of my classroom during this challenging school year have reached a level that has forced the need for me to step away from TWT. My heart is filled with joy for having been a part of this incredible literacy-filled platform, as much as it is filled with sadness to have to say farewell.
Stacey, thank you for the invitation and opportunity to join Two Writing Teachers. It has been an honor to be a part of this team. I will be forever grateful for the time and experience gained from each of the writers and mentors at Two Writing Teachers: Stacey, Beth, Melanie, Betsy, Kathleen, and most recently Amy and Therapi, as well as former co-authors, Lanny and Kelsey.
My learning will continue as I now join the amazing TWT community of readers. I value the learning that I will continue to gain from each voice that stands tall for students and their experiences with writing. I wish each of you a safe, blessed, and beautiful rest of your school year.
With sincere gratitude,