Earlier this week I started back at my practicum school and have had,what I would consider, one of those game changing moments that will forever influence my teaching.
It all started on my first day back into the classroom when I was sitting listening to our grade 4 students sharing stories that they had written. As I sat there listening in amazement as each child came up and spoke, I could not help but think that the language they were using was amazing, the topic and genre choices so wide and varied! And most of all how complex and elaborate their stories were! I left the classroom amazed and floored by what these students were able to write.
That afternoon I began to think.. Do all grade four students write like this? (I was in a grade 1/2 class last year, so I really am not sure) How did these students get to where they are? What has inspired their use of language and their passion for writing? (These kids could write for days) Has it always been this way? What teaching practices got them there? And… How can I get all my students to write like these guys?!
On the second day I was asked to sit down and edit a few stories with students who had not had a chance to or enough time to finish yet. As I began to edit with them I kept thinking, how far should I take my editing? Should I correct every mistake? What are these students expected to know and execute in every piece of writing? (e.g. spelling, punctuation, tone etc.) These questions kept nagging me as I moved from piece to piece and student to student.
Eventually the day flew by and I found myself sitting at home pondering these questions again. Then it occurred to me that a few weeks prior I had purchased a book on writing specifically to attempt to answer these questions that had plagued me before. Due to my whirlwind October, I had only managed to get through chapter 1, perhaps it was time to open up the book and start reading again.
I opened up the book and turned to chapter two and what do you know the chapter was entitled: “Raise your expectations”! As I began to read, the light bulbs started going off in my head. It all started to make sense to me! The author speaks about having high expectations for students. Expect them to write well, edit their work and write legibly. These expectations should fall within their developmental level abilities and be attainable. You should not lower your expectations just because you think a student is not capable but rather have them reach for a goal and once they have attained it reach higher.
The expectations should be made clear to students and as a teacher you should give them the tools and skills necessary to do so each and every time. You should provide them with the support, the modeling, the guided and independent practice for them to be able to practice the skills you would like them to acquire. Take the steps with them (however small) and show them how to be good writers. Share your own writing with them and show them that as an adult you too have to revise and revisit your work! Give them choice in what they can write, as it will get them interested and engaged in what they are doing. Encourage them when they need encouragement. Help them see they ways they can improve and most importantly show them what they are doing well. Use kind words when correcting work and always look for the growth in their writing and help them see it too.
As I closed the book I felt as if a new world had been opened up for me. A world where I could help students write better. A world where I could build students confidence and help them take the necessary risks that we all need to take to become better at what we do. I can’t wait to learn how to teach and inspire students to write.
*In case you are wondering the book I’m reading is “Writing Essentials ” By Regie Routman.*