I wonder if I’m doing the right thing by my students in my efforts to help them learn to write.
A few weeks ago, I asked my Year Two class to write a recount of the excursion they went on the day before. We’d done all our brainstorming and modelling. All the scaffolding was in place. I had images and key words written on the IWB, and some models of recounts on large posters that could be easily referred to by students. The class were up to writing independently and there were about 20 minutes left until the bell.
As they wrote, I circulated amongst them, providing encouragement where I could, and help when it was needed. Every now and then, I would read someone’s paragraph aloud, hoping that it might help others to come up with ideas. I’d look over their shoulders as they worked, and occasionally I would notice a few students who weren’t writing. Some of them would stop mid sentence, others at the end of a paragraph, and just sit there.
Conscious that the time was running out, I would coax them to keep going. I’d ask them if they knew what they wanted to write next and help them with ideas. They would pick up their pencils and continue.
It was a nice lesson. Not spectacular, but it achieved the outcomes. They all completed their recounts and in so doing demonstrated a growing understanding of language and text structure, as well as at the subject matter. I was happy with the quality of their work and chose a couple to post on our class website.
However, it occurred to me that real writing isn’t like that at all, and perhaps, even though they are common practices, my attempts to support my students are counter productive for some.
When I write, I HATE people looking at what I’m doing until I’m finished. I posted about that here. If some does look at my work before I’m ready I freeze up and find it difficult to continue. I lose the flow. Is this how I affect my students when I check on their progress?
While writing this post, I have stopped several times. I need to in order to collect my thoughts – to work out what it is exactly that I want to say. I need to stop and read back through my work to see if it makes sense. In classrooms, ruled by bells and crowded schedules there is little time for students to stop, think and reflect. Stopping is discouraged because you’ll run out of time. Stopping is discouraged because the student may be “off task” or “disengaged”.
I’ve also deleted large sections of this post while writing. I’ve deleted, rewritten and deleted again. That’s a little more difficult when you are a Year Two student writing in an exercise book.
If I was a student in my class that day, I don’t think I would have written well. I might have produced some technically correct writing, but the conditions I need to produce quality writing weren’t there. I need time to think. I need privacy. And I need to be able to make and correct mistakes.
If our objective is to help students to truly express themselves in writing, to put their thoughts into words, share what is important, clarify ideas and create new ones, to create worlds. If our students are to learn to harness the power of the written word, then perhaps a different approach is required.