Thinking as a writer and practicing the craft

(Thank you, Google images)

My youngest daughter is graduating today, and, as I prepare for the big ceremony tonight, I have been thinking a lot about her as a student.  Since I am also taking part in Teachers Write 2013 , I have also been thinking about writing.  And then, as luck would have it, Maria posted a thought-provoking post today (as she often does) on her wonderful blog, Teaching in the 21st. Century  – it turns out that she was thinking about writing, too – specifically, about herself as a writer.   Which brought me back to my daughter, Olivia, and her habits as a writer.  This pains me to admit it, but…she hates to write.  And (this pains me even more), she is not a very good writer.
So, I got to thinking about why this is the case.  We live in an affluent area, our school system is one of the nation’s best, our graduates go on to the best colleges and universities in the country, and both her siblings turned out to be amazing writers. So, what happened???  And, was this always the case, or did something change at some point?
The more I thought things over, the more I came to see the point of divergence – the point at which two of my children continued to write well, and the point where Olivia, essentially, stopped writing.  That point was high school.  While the older two had teachers who demanded writing, lots of it, Olivia’s teachers did not.  There was the occasional paper, to be sure, but the type of consistent writing that was demanded of the other two simply did not take place.  Assignments always had the option of being completed as a project, and as long as that was the case, no matter how much I protested, that is the form Olivia chose.
Recently, while I was cleaning out and organizing closets, I came across Olivia’s Writer’s Notebook from 6th. grade, the grade I teach. I remember this notebook. I remember how it was always in her book bag, on her desk, or on the island in our kitchen.  She wrote in it every day, she was expected to, and she did. I remember, also, that she rather enjoyed it.  When Maria talked about her journey with writing, of starting her “10,000 hours thinking as a writer”,  I realized that Olivia’s journey had  just stopped.  Her writing life became just about completing the assigned paper, rather than thinking about her writing self.  While the other two wrote for class a lot, and discussed the ways in which to phrase things, to share things, to liven up their academic writing with great writing strategies, Olivia could just practice “writing avoidance”…and continue to do well in class.
Thinking about all of this has convinced me all the more that I need to work even harder to make sure my students learn to make writing a real habit – a one they love.  My hope is that they realize the value of seeing themselves as life long writers, as life long keepers of writing notebooks.  My hope is that the Slice of Life writing  we do in sixth grade serves to inspire them to form writing communities as they go along in school and life.  It is important to me that they see a writing habit  as something  worthy of commitment and cultivation.  And that begins in my class – where we begin clocking in those hours towards becoming great writers by practicing in our notebooks, and growing to love the process.

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9 thoughts on “Thinking as a writer and practicing the craft

  1. I want to hear all about tonight on Friday! But I, like you think deeply about this issue of writing and as you know, I am crazed by the reforms we live with that don't allow us to work on creating writers across everywhere. Enjoy tonight!

  2. Tara,Your posts always make me think! I remember one year at Open House, I told parents I was going to make their kids write! One came up to thank me, because she's an editor and she said the writing she sees now is so bad. Another one told me that wasn't right, because her son is a bad writer. Well, he's never going to get any better or come to enjoy it if he never does it! I was also looking at projects and such that my new team does with the students, and I'm not seeing any writing. It seems like the first thing to go in the day is writing. And then teachers wonder why their students are not able to write well…Again, I love reading your posts and then reflecting on my own thinking and practice. I am looking forward to reading your guest post on how you do Slice of Life writing in your classroom!

  3. Thanks Tara for the mention of blog post today but more heartfelt thanks goes to you as a loving parent who realizes that something happened to shift your daughter's thoughts about writing. As teachers, I realize now I need to be writing and more than blogging and writing for presentations or articles. I need to stumble and pull myself back up. Our connections once again are a huge integral part of my life. Thank you friend and enjoy tonight as your daughter graduates. Precious memories are those worth writing about in our notebook.

  4. I hope you have a wonderful evening full of good memories, Tara. I agree that Olvia's habit of writing was broken, and here at my school we continue to worry that we haven't built in enough importance personally with the students because they are going to be with teachers that do not encourage that. I had one student return one year and say that his teacher only asked for the intro & conclusion of the essays because there wasn't enough time to assess all of it. Then I look at the other side, with large class sizes, & know that the teachers are so challenged to 'get it all in'! I look forward to hearing more about what you think we might do, and maybe it's just to do some of our own teacher research and share it! Again, happy day!

  5. Tara, I so agree with everything you've described about your children and their different writing paths. I've witnessed almost the same thing with my 3, except I have a daughter who loves to write, is a gifted writer, and then two boys that like your Olivia, who choose to take the options that lead away from writing. I'm also participating in the Teachers Write this year for the first time and I also teach 6th grade. I'm convinced this is the best professional development I could have ever chose….I'm finding out how difficult it is to not only write, but share that writing and seek feedback. So, of course, it's going to be a difficult thing for an 11 or 12 year-old to do! But, I love your slice of life writing and am going to "steal" the idea this year with my class. I'll have 1:1 ipads this year, so I'm toying with the idea of do I have them do their slice of life electronically, in a writer's notebook, or both or leave the choice up to them? Any ideas about that would be great. But, thank you for your though-provoking post today. Enjoy your day….know that you are not alone in what you see both at home and in the classroom with writing..or lack thereof!

  6. We have so much in common, Deb! And I will definitely have to search you out on Teachers Write. SOL writing in the classroom as part of Writing Workshop is so key – every year I realize how important it has been to the growth of my students as writers, and it really does build our community. I have my kids write their posts on our SOL blog, and that's it. One year, I did have them write out their posts in their writer's notebooks and then type up their slices, but I realized that this was unnecessary work. Since part of the CCSS asks for our kids to be able to write on-demand, and to do so electronically, I feel that it fits into that aspect of addressing standards, too. Ive written quite a bit about SOL writing on my blog, and am writing a post for Two Writing Teachers about this in August,too. So happy to know that more teachers want to bring SOL into their writing workshops!

  7. Sometimes we have to puzzle over why something is true before we notice what happened and why. I'm glad that you gave this some thought and traced it back to the source — you noticed something important. Your insights make me sad about the state of education.

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