A trip down memory lane: Part seven
Thanks to Facebook memories, I was reintroduced to my first literacy blog I created for a grad school assignment. I am going to be reposting my old posts here. They are a reminder of why I became a teacher. They are a reminder of how I developed my teaching style. They are a reminder of my pedagogical philosophy. Many of the posts I have reread, still ring true to me and are embedded in my daily practice as a teacher.
Originally Posted on "I'm Making Readers & Writers For Life," December 10, 2011.
"Make It Rain"
Maybe it’s my older years of a whole quarter of a century that I cannot remember anything. It could also be the fact I have 110 thoughts passing through my head at any given moment. I am going to say that it is the later; I have too many thoughts and a good one may just get lost in the sea and not come to the surface for days. Well that’s usually when I don’t have a pen and paper or in modern day cases my cell phone handy. Often the greatest inspiration for my writing would come on my walks home from work. I had 20 blocks between me and my office where I would walk and think to clear my head from my dead end job. Often on those frigid walks home was when the inspiration for my next posting would come from. I honestly have no idea what sparked the creative juices to start flowing but there was no stopping them. To dam the ideas up, I would whip out the trusty old Blackberry. As I walked I would furiously type away whatever I thought sounded good. I am surprised I was never hit by a taxi. Ok we get it, I am a writer and this is an education blog so guess what comes next: The connection to the classroom and the students.
Inspiration for writing does not come from sitting at a desk with a paper and pencil on your desk. It comes from the lives we lead and the inspirations we pass. I doubt those cold desks are inspiring the next great American novel. When it comes out let’s ask the author what his or her inspiration came from. I bet you $20 it was not sitting at his desk looking at a blank word document. I find it comical the fact that writing this post is taking the most effort and staring at a blank screen. I know what I want to write, but just could not string the words together. Oh the irony! Yes there will be writing instruction in my classroom, lots of it, but I want to teach my students the purpose and inspiration for writing. An excellent tool to enable this is the writer’s notebook or pad. If students are equipped with a note pad and pencil wherever they go they can write down their ideas when they strike. It eliminates that deep thought process of what was I thinking about when I had that stupendous idea. That stupendous idea is already written down and when the student sits down for writer’s workshop h/she knows exactly where to begin. They have an idea. They do not know where this idea will take them. Could it end up being a mystery? Or will it be a poem? Will it be a mysterious poem? The writing process of prewriting, writing and revising will lend itself to how the actual piece develops.
Coming up with the idea is often the hardest part of free writing. We as teachers must “help students to see and value the precious particles in their lives not by giving lectures and assignments, but by demonstrating this quality of attentiveness in our own lives” (Calkins, 1994). When students are aware of their surroundings they can draw on their experiences and create excellent writing. Ever talk to a published writer? Ask them who their main character’s inspiration is. Nine times out of ten they will say there is a big part of me (the author) in the character. Over the course of my semester, I have had the privilege of listening to talented writers speak about their body of work. Every single one of them mentioned themselves were in their books in one capacity or another. We need to show our students that our lives are worth being written about, that our stories are the next tall tales to be told. We as teachers must inspire our students to draw with their pencil. But we need to put that pencil in their hand and convey to our students that inspiration may strike at a moment’s notice. Stop and get it down on paper because great things will come flowing out of that pen. The writer’s notebook is the first step in that process.
Once we start writing there seems to be a wall we hit. That wall is not lack of ideas, but in reality lack of confidence. I remember in high school, Mr. Shortliffe had us break with tradition and write exploratory essays. Instead of ending the last sentence of our first paragraph with our thesis we just wrote our thoughts until they ended with our thesis. He prefaced this assignment or couple of papers with the fact that if it is in our head just write it down and the thesis will just naturally develop. This may have been the hardest* assignment of 10th grade, more so than reading Ibsen (really Ibsen in May, students are checked out in May and give them A Doll’s House and they are already in the Catskills singing camp songs). It was hard because as students we are traditionally told to write it down if it only has meaning or significance. The art of revision was never really a part of the process. Resistance to writing comes from lack of confidence and this assignment wanted to just explore. This serves as inspiration for how I want to create a writing environment in my classroom. I want to remove all resistance so the words just flow. I want my students to just try and get their ideas on paper. It may be a drawing of how their story should progress, it could be a bunch of squiggles that one day will form words or it may be a spoke wheel with what the author wants to include in their piece of writing. This writing needs to be celebrated along its journey. Encouragement and positive feedback will keep the writing wheel greased. Once the practice stops it’s hard to pick up where it left off. It needs to be a constant occurrence. There really are no excuses. I see in my own writing, the more I do it the better it becomes and the more ideas I have swirling around in my head. If I see this why not show it to my students. They will understand this and they will be writing themselves to the top.
*Like I told my practicum students, “Hard work pays off.” As you can tell from my posts, I tend to write in a more exploratory style. So thank you Mr. Shortliffe, you have challenged me since 8th grade. There would be no Chef Steph without you, there would be no RPPQD! without you, there would be no urine, tinkle, piss without you.