Slice of Life: Accessing Student Voice

The spoken and the written word is an interesting comparative study. I tend to walk away from my verbal interactions disappointed in my lack of wit and/or reserve. In contrast, I feel my written words are considerably more measured and thought out. The difference between the two can feel so extreme that I wonder which voice is a closer representation of me and my thoughts.

I had not, until recently, considered this as a possibility for my students. For most students, verbal articulation outperforms writing. It’s understandable. Developmental. Writing is complex. Hence the writer’s workshop filled with strategies and opportunity to practice.

Yet, this year I’ve noticed some student’s written voice surpass their spoken words. Especially when allowed to write without constraint. I would have had no idea how funny, thoughtful, and poetic these students are if they did not have the opportunity to blog for their peers.

G* is artistic, mathematical and quiet. Reading is not his strong suit. Talking about reading is like pulling teeth. Yet he is a prolific blogger. Always insightful with a touch of humor.  One of my favorites was a story about a spelling test. In this excerpt, he captures the voice of the teacher and the inner thoughts of the student.

Mr. Olieve said the next word. “Disappointed” I thought really hard. Then I wrote down the best option in my head. “Disupointet” “Hmmm…” I thought to myself. Then I tried again. “Disapoinded” And I thought that was super right.

Alright guys, this is the final word” Mr.Olieve said. “Conclusion” It was super hard for me. I thought harder than I could ever think in my life. And  I wrote it down, hoping that it was correct. “Cunclooshin” Then Mr.Olieve said to turn in our papers in the pink basket.

Every time I read this, I think, what if I had only looked at G* through the lens of the running record and writing workshop’s structured lessons? I would have never seen his ability.  And I wonder, what else am I missing with other students?

Every year, the voices that rise up when given different ways to show their thinking astound me. The open, under-directed nature of blogging can feel risky. No matter how many times I have done it with classrooms, I worry about the time and energy put toward it.  But with the risk, every year I’ve found rewards. Writers like G*, kiddos whose lights shine brightly when given a different way to access literacy.

When I assess and guide my students to the next step with lessons and expectations, what am I not seeing? What am I not allowing my students to see? What other kinds of open-ended opportunities might show more, allow more? These questions tug at me.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.


9 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Accessing Student Voice

  1. “Especially when allowed to write without constraint” – that’s what it’s all about, the heart of writing. It never comes about by compliance. Point so well made. Happy New Year full of wonderful experiences for you and your fortunate writers!

  2. Julieanne,
    You are always listening, thinking, and reflecting on the whole child. So much info to collect in order to see all the sides the students share. So grateful for these glimpses into student choices and joys that pop up spontaneously and fill our hearts!

  3. You are an incredible writer and teacher. There is so much in this post – I don’t know where to begin. Formative data at its best! This line: Every year, the voices that rise up when given different ways to show their thinking astound me – is essential and brilliant. Thank you –I will bring you into all of my classrooms today. You have energized me!

  4. I teach speech and English and often see similar things in the two classes. My best speeches often come from the quietest kids. They need time to think and form their thoughts. The pressure to speak off the cuff when called on doesn’t allow for this to happen.

  5. Every time people write, I believe they learn something new. Perhaps they will use a new word just learned and it fits the topic, or learn to start in a flashy way because a classmate did that on another day. I’m glad you watch and think so closely, Julieanne. It is a wonder how many sides to people there are.

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