“Lucky you! You’ve got gifted kids.They GET IT.”
You’d think working with gifted students would be a smooth, easy road, like those highways in Nevada whose view is unbroken by anything but horizon.
Let’s get real. Our road has speed bumps – plenty of them. If I had my way, gifted education would be a part of the special education spectrum. That, however, is a different soapbox for a different day.
We can, however, dispel a key myth. Not all gifted readers are strong writers. Even kids who are great with words are plagued by any number of factors. Some wrestle the many-headed hydra of perfectionism. Others have an abundance of ideas but no clear strategies for wrangling those thoughts into writing. Still others are victims of impostor syndrome, wrongly comparing themselves to others and continually falling short. Writing instruction for gifted students is as affective as it is skill-based.
We had another obstacle, a familiar one: COVID. No longer was I able to work right alongside my “loveies.” Despite our district being in-person since August, I was required to hold classes via Zoom to keep classroom “bubbles” intact.
If we wanted a writing community, we’d have to move beyond flair pens, clipboards, fancy paper, and flexible seating. We’d need a safe place to share writing, where students could gather articulate feedback, and learn the joy of cultivating a responsive, positive readership. Where kids see themselves as writers and enjoy the craft of it.
In short, I wanted what I had through the Slice of Life community: Joy. Love of craft. Validation.
Opening the Gates: Establishing Safety and Community
As a class, our first order of business was to create the time and space to craft in the modes and genres we loved most. At the end of each day, students posted screenshots or photos of a passage they felt proud to have written that day, and complemented at least three other writers.
Like cats coaxed from under the bed, most grew more comfortable composing. Once I had them writing, I wanted kids to feel the pride of having others read and appreciate their work.
I started with home-grown mentor text: the comment section on my own blog. We identified types of feedback to share: compliments, encouragement, connections, quotes from text, and literary analysis. They did not disappoint.
We had one hard and fast rule: no critique (yet).
Of course kids wanted to make suggestions. (Did I mention that many gifted students feel strongly about “right” ways to do things?) I steered them in a different direction, once again using Slice of Life as the example.
Consider: In our blogging community, how often do readers leave unsolicited advice or suggestions? Just about…never. We trust one another as writers, which allows us to trust OURSELVES as writers.
Slowly but surely my kids realized they were writing for a genuine audience of peers. I couldn’t ask for more.
Well…perhaps I could.
Revision: The Elephant in the Room
“If no one offers corrections, how can students improve their work?”
I can’t get around it: students need to develop writing skills. Even some of the most talented writers still have hair-graying spelling and conventions.
I started with a self-paced “Fiction Dojo” on the Schoology app. Kids “leveled up” by revising or editing a single area such as capitalization, dialogue, or balance of narration. Students needing support worked with me in breakout rooms.
I learned quickly the “Dojo” system didn’t translate exactly as hoped. Not every student needed to review every single level, and some needed to complete “belts” out of order in the interest of sense-making.
It was the universe’s sneaky way of reminding me to TRUST my WRITERS. After each revision, students often asked what they “should do next.” Sometimes I gave that guidance, but mostly I said, “I trust your judgment. What do you think your readers need from you?”
What happened, in turn, was the crafting of stories that were more strongly edited and revised than I ever could have accomplished through individual conferencing and assignments.
As for building critique back in, I’ll confess I’ve never had much luck with peer conferences. My kids have a tough time directing that conversation regardless of structure. No chart or questionnaire has ever fit.
And then it hit me. CROWDSOURCING.
What wisdom from the “hive mind” did they need? A title? Character names? Help making a scene better or more readable? Putting these questions in the hands of WRITERS, seeking feedback from READERS, made the most sense.
Friends, it was magic. Writers trusted themselves to know what they needed help with, and they trusted their peers enough to support without judgment.
I think I’m onto something here. Even my most reluctant writers have more confidence and joy in writing than I’ve ever seen. Throughout the coming weeks and into next year, I’m looking for ways to strengthen self-efficacy and community through shared reading and feedback.
Our next area of exploration follows a “what-if.” What if we use STUDENT writing as mentor text? What if we use students’ writing as a basis for book clubs, for literary analysis? Would that encourage students to further develop their craft? Would it engage them more deeply in reading and conversations about text? My intuition says yes, and I’m anxious to learn more. In a perfect world, I would farm this strategy out to my mainstream classroom colleagues.
Now, there are still places where my lovies fall short on their writing rubrics. I’ve learned I can’t control all of their conversation or revisions. I’ve discovered there are still places I’d love kids to “get to,” but that’s not my journey.
Sometimes their cars are on that Nevada highway, driving somewhere I never would have imagined, and that destination is quite fabulous.
I’m just glad to be along for the ride.