The Power of Writing
A few weeks ago I adopted a 5th grade classroom for writing workshop. The teacher has graciously agreed to share her class with me and allow me to team teach writing with her so that I can continue to hone my skills, try out new minilessons, and develop a relationship with students over the course of the school year. On my first day with them I asked them to share with me their attitudes toward writing. One precocious young man (I’ll call him John) was eager to inform me that he doesn’t dislike writing, he doesn’t hate writing, he LOATHES writing. There was no reading between the lines that needed to be done there! On subsequent days during our time together, this boy found a variety of ways to stall or avoid writing altogether. But this past Monday something interesting happened during the minilesson. I shared with the students a piece of student writing from one of the Calkins’ Units of Study in which a boy wrote about his grandfather’s funeral. It is a very touching piece and difficult to read without tearing up. After sharing this piece, I told them that it really resonated with me and reminded me of the last time I saw my grandma before she died. I added the topic to my writer’s notebook and told them I will someday write about it. I asked if any of them connected with it. The room was silent but several students affirmed that it resonated with them as well. After the minilesson I sent them off to work, but John stayed behind to ask if he could switch the topic for his narrative. He had tears in his eyes and said he wanted to write about his uncle’s funeral. He actually wanted to write. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if he was just being dramatic and trying to get my attention or if the piece of writing was really affecting him that deeply. In any event, I sent him off to start his new piece.
Today (3 days later) I was conferring with students who are at various stages of work on their personal narratives. I approached John’s desk and noticed that he was working intently. As he looked up at me, I noticed that his eyes were again filled with tears. He explained that he was at a really sad part in the story. I asked if he thought he might ever be willing to share this piece with the class. He replied honestly that he didn’t know because it was just so hard to talk about. I said, “You know, that’s the neat thing about writing. Sometimes you can get feelings out in your writing that you can’t yet put into spoken words.” I left my teaching point at that, not wanting to ruin this moment with some lesson on writer’s craft or convention. I asked his teacher if he often gets emotional or cries in class. She said she has never seem him cry until writing workshop this week. Only time will tell, but this may be a breakthrough for John who “loathes” writing. As I reflect on this, I am reminded of how powerful writing workshop can be—not just for improving student writing but also for helping children make sense of their lives. I am also reminded that it is children we teach, not just curriculum we cover.