Celebrate This Week: Why Write?

Ruth Ayers wrote about why she writes in her Friday post.  This led me to celebrate why I write.

I started blogging a little over a year ago, and I think it’s fair to say it has evolved.  Shamefully, I have been teaching writing for ten plus years, but only writing regularly for a little over a year. In this time so much has changed in my writing and teaching life. The effect has been nothing less than profound.

My purpose in writing is part reflection on teaching, part reflection on the experience of writing. The call to write is self imposed but driven by a weekly habit of connecting with others to celebrate or share a part of my life.  Without this call, this community, I know I would not go to my notebook to reflect. The community pulls me in. To put my words forth and see what comes up. My posts often don’t come out the way I anticipate, discoveries are made along the way. Which is the beauty.  Working it out in a public way makes me accountable. I have to come to some resolution in the process. It has to wrap up, make sense to some degree. Before writing, my thoughts mix around in my head without end points. Without writing, my thoughts that start off shinny possibilities or troubled storm clouds, float off and disappear rarely surfacing as conscious action. With each blog post, my thoughts cycle through and in about 500 (or so) words, a resolution or next step is a bit clearer, driving me towards the next step.

Moving my reflective practice to my classroom, knowing most of us don’t take thinking journeys without a push, I ask for writing about reading on paper every two to three weeks. I “invite” students to practice the possibly of this journey of thought — to come to new realizations through writing, not to demonstrate knowledge. As a side benefit, I see where they land on a continuum of learning. Which brings me to the sticking point. A real problem. I can teach students to journey, to discover their thinking, to love books. And I can do this in ways that don’t “feel” like assessments for students. But then I assess for grades. My students know this. I can’t ignore this when the “is this a test?” query that pops up when I hand them them the paper. This leads many to hate this writing about reading. To rebel against it. Most do it because that’s what students do – what the teacher asks.

I have one student who does not, will not comply. While a reader and a writer (on electronic devices), she won’t write on paper, won’t read as we read as a community of readers. She moves to her own drummer. I love this kid and I understand her moves. I am this kid in many ways. The trouble is she isn’t on her own, accountable only to herself. She lives in a community that has expectations, the world who will continue to assess her and the classroom who depend on her contributions. She’s in a community that doesn’t always have an electronic device. That at times, has to write on paper.  She battles the paper and pen. Gives three words when asked to express her thoughts. Self assesses herself as a “1” and then buries herself in a book. How much of this is can’t and how much of this is won’t.  What is to her benefit, the do it because it’s “for your own good” and what might be counterproductive and hence clearly not for her good. She hates writing, on paper, for a teacher. But when asked to write about the meaning of a text in activity that is not collected, she admits, grudgingly, that her understanding is very much improved. Asked to blog she is works hard to make her meaning clear.

While my headstrong student isn’t learning disabled, her strongly held beliefs need to be accommodated for. Why not a blog post to meet the call to write about reading? And in the end, might that be an option for the more compliant souls in the classroom? I have had this thought before, as I watched some struggle in those moments of paper and pen writing. And why hadn’t I come to this end point sooner? Maybe because I hadn’t written about it.

Today I celebrate writing for reflection, writing for a community, writing for my students.

Thank you Ruth Ayers for creating a community, a call to write at Celebrate This Week. Find more celebrations and add your own here.

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14 thoughts on “Celebrate This Week: Why Write?

  1. I really love this post, Julianne. That purpose paragraph clearly and eloquently explains why I value blogging for myself and my pre-service students. Community is also a key part of why I write and reflect now too–and through that writing and reflecting, I so often discover what I really think, what I really need to do. But I don’t think I would do the writing and reflecting if it weren’t for the community I want to connect with each week.

    • So grateful for this community and your voice in it! I’m trying to get my 5th graders closer to the point of finding their community through blogging. So far they love comments, they feel “famous.” The thinking part is slow to come for ten year olds. Hoping they find something closer to it when they share beyond just me and all the constraints they feel with a teacher looking on.

  2. Julieanne, I hope you know how much your reflection has helped me in the past year (and I’m sure so many others)!! My heart sank when I read these words, “But then I assess for grades.” I totally get that!! I struggle with the same things you do in this post. Yesterday I watched this TED talk about being WRONG. It made me think about assessment (grades) in school & so many other things: http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong?language=en
    Maybe it will help you in your reflection on this…although, it may just create more questions… As always, I love coming here to share your thoughts & celebrations & reflections!

    • I just finished the Kathryn Schulz talk. Wow! Thank you so much for that. I love her thinking and that you thought of me in connection to it. Your comments always help me ferret through my wonderings. Thank you for being there.

  3. One of the teachers of the older students (6, 7, 8) is using blogging for their reading reflections. They will add other things later, but for now, he’s pleased with how it’s going. Like Carrie, I wonder what is creating that ‘wall’ between paper/pencil and her work. Could she have had some awful experience with an assessment elsewhere? Could it be that she never learned how to write in cursive? I’ve had several students who (sheepishly) asked me to help them learn it at the middle school level. You are so supportive, and I wish you good luck with the student. I enjoyed hearing your thinking about the writing, and want to say I’m personally glad you started!

    • I’m trying to figure it out. I suppose the intent is to push her on her course of growth, though it may be off the standard expectations. Better to push forward in their own thinking, than backward in an effort to force someone into a predetermined course? Still looking. Thank you so much for the lovely compliment and for your comments. Almost like you are looking in on my classroom and coaching from a far.

  4. Julieanne, You make me smile. I’m glad I could inspire you, but I’m even happier that you put these words down on the page. It is a reminder of how important a community of writers is to writing. Thanks for taking the time to celebrate!

  5. Thanks so much for this reflection, Julieanne. As always, your thoughts help me think. At different times in my life I think I was (am) this student, though for me it is less about electronics than about the reward/punishment of a “grade” and how that frames what is understood to be important. And yet I’m doing this thing that I struggled with to the kids that I teach. Hmmm…

  6. And I wonder for this student, is it the draw of the electronics or the fear of the assessment. Interestingly, this student wrote a blog post from home yesterday. I got some insight as to her thinking but what did she get from doing this? The assignment done, checked off. Parents and teacher pleased. I don’t think I have convinced this student writing about reading offers her anything, yet. And while I want to know where their thinking lies now, I’m also painting a picture of that student as a reader, assessing them, grading them. And students know that. Like you say, hmm…

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