I read a lot of writing. I respond to a lot of writing. I present standards for writing. I employ rubrics for writing. I encourage process in writing. I require products in writing. I teach writing. I judge writing. My days and my years are filled with writing. Of all that I teach, I think it’s the most important thing that I can teach my kids, the most important, the most relevant far-reaching skill that I can help them develop. But, consequently, of all that I teach, it is by far the hardest thing I teach. In part it’s simply the time factor that makes it difficult. Teaching writing takes a lot of time. As such, we don’t write a lot of pieces, but we spend a lot of time on the few pieces we do write–sometimes weeks, sometimes months. Not churning out the essays in 211. But I am supporting young writers in their development, and that is an endeavor that takes a lot of time, and so it is difficult. But there is a bigger part to the “difficult” for me and my students: It’s personal.
When we create, we connect. For writers, I imagine it is no different from artists who can’t help but forge a connection to their work. Any work seen is work judged. True in life. True in school. Humans see. Humans judge. Can’t help it. But in school, the judgment part of it becomes so pronounced that it disrupts the creative process. So worried about how their writing will be judged–how they will be judged, kids take few risks, existing within the margins of what the teacher wants, struggling to find their own voices. In truth, it seems for the most part, though our words might suggest otherwise, that we don’t want them to find their voices, that we want them to be parrots, that we want them to be echoes. And that is unfortunate. For when I think of good writing, it is rarely the within-the-margin, echoic writing that rises to the top. To be sure, writing that reaches the rim is writing that says something. It is not an echo. It is not a parrot squawking on its perch. It is a fingerprint of she who has written. It is a voice. It is her. That is good writing.
So how do we do it? Opportunity. In earnest, I believe all teachers want their kids to find their voices, and that is great. It is what we should want. That is the talk. But I find that same earnestness lacking in our design of writing opportunities. Somewhat out of the necessity of compliance, we place kids in too many “school-writing” situations, situations that they will rarely, if ever, use outside the schoolhouse walls. It is not bad per se. It serves a purpose, but it is limited; it is restrictive. There are few risks to be taken; there is little inspiration to be found. It becomes a transaction. And in transaction there is little commitment. Choice demands commitment. So we have to give kids opportunities to choose. Indeed, choice invites voice.
Currently in 211, choice exists in the form of the kids’ injustice speeches. And it is not only in topic. It is also in speaker, audience, purpose, and tone. The kids have complete control over the situation. And this is no accident. I gave them the helm, so they could steer. When they have the helm, they choose their direction. And my role? Well, I did not abandon ship. I just gave up my captaincy. But I am still there on the deck, a faithful first mate, ready to help them through the storms of their own creations, the pursuits of their own voices, their searches for themselves. And for those who have committed to their new roles, the sun is a promise on their horizons. Glad I am there to see it.
Happy Tuesday, all.