Last Friday night several regular Slice of Life participants gathered for dinner (in person!) during the NCTE conference in Anaheim. As we went around the table to share how long we had been blogging and our connections within the group, Joel Garza shared a thought with the group that we all deemed Bumper Sticker Worthy: Writing has captured so many moments in our lives that otherwise would have “died” or been lost forever.
This thought lingered with me as I looked back through my own blog posts, realizing that I started participating in the March Slice of Life challenge all the way back in 2015 when my kids were only 1 and 3. Many of the posts seemed so mundane at the time, but looking back through them made me realize once again just how significant the act of capturing a thought, a moment, or an image in writing can really be for us, not just as writers but as humans.
In our classrooms, we’re often rushed. There are so many standards and students and demands on our time that we feel the need to push forward constantly in fear of not achieving all of the things we know we need to accomplish.
However, as we head into a season of thanksgiving and celebrations, it is worth it to take the time to simply pause and reflect on writing with our students. Taking a writing period at the end or beginning of a week, right before a break, or just as students return from an extended period of time off to help students reflect through a lens of gratitude might possibly be one of the most valuable ways we can invest in our students’ growth and identity as writers.
What do I mean by a lens of gratitude? While this is definitely open to interpretation, in the context of revisiting writing this means rereading previously written pieces with the mindset of being thankful for the moments and ideas that were captured on paper. It means seeing the value in things that may have seemed insignificant at the time but actually reflect a piece of a writer’s identity and history. It means seeing the true value of writing: we write because we have ideas we want to save and thoughts we want to share. For our students–whether they are our youngest writers or more established writers in the middle grades and above–giving the opportunity to see the value of the moments captured on paper may be one of the best ways to show (instead of tell) kids why writing is such an important part of the human experience.
Here are a few simple suggestions for making the time and space to reflect in your classroom:
- Mine Writer’s Notebooks for gems. I don’t know about you, but my students always wrote diligently in their notebooks during class time…in September. Then we launched multiple writing units and the notebook work was put on the back burner. Try taking a few minutes out of a class period to invite students to return to their notebooks with a few sticky notes in hand to find pieces they are proud of, moments they are grateful they captured in writing, or pieces they would like to add on to. Then give them some time and space to do the new work or to set some goals based on what they have already done.
- Revisit the first writing piece of the year. Even though we often ask students to go back to previous pieces of writing to look for explicit ways they have grown or skills they have learned, this work is rarely about the content and the power of writing. Try inviting students to reread their first complete piece from the year through a different lens by asking themselves: Why does it matter that I captured this (topic, moment, idea) in my writing? What does this say about me as a writer? What are some reasons to be thankful for this piece of writing?
- Invite students to bring in their “oldest” piece of writing. Many students have a portfolio of school memories at home or a digital portfolio in Seesaw or Google docs with pieces from previous years. Take the time to invite students to look for the oldest piece of writing they can find and reflect using some of the same prompts from above.
- Make reflection a regular part of your writing practices. In my previous role as a classroom teacher, students wrote in their notebooks nightly all year. I set aside time at least once every other month to invite students to read back through their writing, either by themselves or with someone at home, to highlight the pieces that were most meaningful to them.
- Give students the language of gratitude. Provide your students with the time to talk to a partner or work with you in a writing conference to articulate what they have noticed and are thankful to have written.
Above all, invite your students to make some time to reflect and provide the time and space for this work. Research has shown over and over again how gratitude plays an important role in mental health, contributing to both happiness and overall wisdom. In our classrooms, we have the power to leverage this by making the time to view writing with gratitude: gratitude for the moments that have been captured, the memories that have been preserved, and the times that would have faded away if they were not written down.