Walking over to a raised hand across the room I ask, “How’s it going? Did you need help getting an idea for today’s freewrite?”
“Well, yeah. When you said we could write about anything we wanted, did you really mean anything?” The hesitation in her eyes shows me she doesn’t know me and isn’t sure of me yet.
Although several students in the room are former students, this one is not. She seemed a bit startled by the concept of writing about anything.
I wondered, maybe it’s a bit too overwhelming, so I offered clarity. “Yes, I really meant it. Also, I will only read entries in your writer’s notebook that you wish to share with me, so if you want to write about anything, truly any event, worry, or something you are excited about, you can write about it today.” I try not to smile too big, just gently. Although I have a lot of enthusiasm for autonomy when it comes to students and their writing, I know in this moment, I need to be subtle.
“And it counts toward my grade?” she asked, still unsure of my honesty at this moment. Could she truly trust that I would let her write anything, no strings attached?
Again, a bit surprised by the grade question, I smile gently and proceed to explain, “Getting out your words, ideas, and thoughts don’t need a grade from me, you just need time from me. I want you to work on getting words on your page. That’s my goal for you. If you do that, you are making progress. If you don’t, I will help you until you do.” I could see the reassurance in her eyes.
She wrote a narrative that day that now takes up over eight pages in her notebook because she continues to go back to this piece of writing to add and continue her story.
Four days a week I get my students into their writer’s notebooks and three of those days I offer a prompt. Sometimes a line from a poem, an image, or just a word. I offer it but my students also know, the purpose is time in our notebooks, not whether they respond to my prompt. Following this very low-stakes writing, we do a quick share. Sometimes it’s three minutes, sometimes we get off schedule and take ten minutes sharing, reading, or discussing our entries. It’s this off-schedule time that often helps build up the writing community I’m still working to strengthen this year.
“This year is the hardest,” is what I have heard over and over again. I see it in social media posts, hear it in conversations, and on the news. The kids are not okay and my response to this is to let them write. Let them pour out a little bit of themselves to give them a chance to process their day and the time that has passed.
My post today is a permission post if you feel like I have the ability to give it to you. I’m giving you permission to deviate from the schedule. Let the kids draw and write, and tell about it if they want to. Give them an opportunity to use writing as a means to self-regulate and center their minds. I promise it won’t be time wasted. It might end up being the best part of your day.