NCTE18 Reflection: The necessity of writing

Writing shapes and reflects our identity.
Our written voice is how we find ourselves. — Katherine Bomer

These words offered at an NCTE18 session linger with me. What this means about the necessity of writing.

In the pursuit of teaching students to write, we have overemphasized and overwhelmed students with the how. We give them the form to put it in. We show them how we want it to look. We tell them how we will score them. In this process of how we have forgotten the essential reason to write. To share ourselves.

Later in the session, Donna Santman asked, what do we actually believe? And then she said, we are conflicted.  She said the input is the output. And at the time, I thought I knew what she meant.  I thought no, I’m not conflicted. I know what I believe.

I’ve never been conflicted about the absolute necessity of reading and the role it plays in creating happiness and a healthy humanity.  I’ve never doubted the essential nature of it. To quote Kylene Beers, “Reading for information is about saving our democracy. Reading for pleasure is about saving ourselves.”  But I don’t believe I felt that way about writing. It’s good to write. But is it essential? There lies the conflict that I didn’t know I had.

Looking back on Katherine’s words, I realized something I haven’t been able to own. Writing is necessary to live a good life. Not only in schools as a precursor to a high stakes assessment. And not to be justified by a practical need or even artistic pursuit, Writing is a necessary step in the discovery of our world and ourselves.

Now connect the idea of identity to the writer’s voice,  Katherine wisely asked us to name that voice we hear in our student’s writing. Describe it specifically. Acknowledging its identity. How could this not be an essential way we spend our time with children?  To coach them towards their truths because writers look for truths. In themselves and in the world around them.

And even with all of that, I must be careful to value all voices. The strange. The angry. The silly. Couldn’t that be precisely what might surface? My idea of good is not necessarily valuable. The idea of searching and trying things on is essential to growth.  Remember to cherish the process as well as the product; don’t devalue worlds I don’t inhabit.

I think about the writer’s notebooks that live in my students’ desks and backpacks. And wonder, what percent of it is directed by me. What is purely them? What time have I committed to allowing them to venture and discover their voice?