Friday, January 25, 2013

Memoir: The Power of Audience (Revised)

Parents are always asking, "How can I get my child to write?" I used to tell them to create an environment where kids were free to take risks and buy lots of special notebooks and pens.  Now, I have an even better answer!
I grew up recording bits and pieces of my life and dreams on crumpled yellow legal pads tucked into the nightstand.  Most of the time, I wrote so I could organize my own thinking.  I wrote more when I was upset or trying to work through challenging times. I certainly never considered myself to be a writer.  Writing was always messy.  I would write the first paragraph again to get it just right!  When I went back to grad school, I dreaded those 300-500 word reader responses because I knew it would take many drafts to get it right.  The one advantage was that I was by then, beginning to draft in Word, which allowed for more efficient revising and editing.  I remember thinking that it probably took me a lot longer than my classmates!   
Last year, something happened that changed my view on writing.  In February, I made a pledge to myself to try to write every day in March as part of the Two Writing Teacher's Slice of Life Challenge.  I'd followed the TWT for a while and some of my blogging heroes posted there regularly so I figured, "Give it a try."  I'd already had this blog for quite a while and I planned to reflect on the process. 
I set up lots of "seed" posts on my blog so that I would have ideas for tough mornings and dedicated time for reading other's posts and penning my own.  Things plugged along slowly for the first few days, and the writing was pretty arduous.  I wondered if those in the SOL challenge would consider me worthy of posting on their "boards."  I worried that my writing was boring.  I worried I would run out of ideas.
Day 3 of the challenge was a Saturday, but I set my alarm anyway to be sure I would have time to write early and post near the beginning of the "pack."  I literally ran down the stairs to write!  The thoughts were coming fast and furiously!  I hit attach and send before heading off to make a cup of tea and checking my email.....

And when I came back, it was of my teacher-blog heroes had responded to MY post! Who would have thought that would ever happen! I think I was actually shaking with excitement as I hurriedly opened the browser ....and there were other comments....WOW...... There I was an experienced teacher with a PhD in Literacy, Language and Learning shaking with excitement like a preteen who just got an email from Lady Gaga! 

So now I know (and you know) what the real answer to the age old question really is.  To get kids to write, they do have to write a lot; however, writing, like talking, is a social activity that requires an audience who will provide specific feedback, challenges, guidance, encouragement and reflective listening.  Kids need to hear not just "I like this entry," or "Good," but rather "I like the way you made me understand how you character was feeling right here when you said she was so mad her hair hurt!"   Like Johnston says, our words have powerful impacts on our students. 
If we want kids to write more, they have to know that we genuinely want to read and respond to their writing. They have to know we care. We have to provide them with comfortable ways to write. We have to embrace technology. They have to have feedback that comes right away...and we have to make sure they are not penalized for taking risks with their writing.  We also have to make sure they can have feedback from their peers!  Sharing an "ah-ha" moment means making another one! 
If we give kids feedback through our verbal and written responses to their writing and if we tell them we really care ...they will feel like they hit the jackpot....that much I know for sure...cause it still happens to me....every single time someone responds to anything I write!    

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