Slice of Life Tuesday: A tale of two writers (with thanks to @ClareandTammy)


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When Clare and Tammy share that Tweet during last night’s TWT Twitter chat, I thought immediately about two of my “writers in action”, and how important it has been do just that…observe, figure out, move gently, and help them find their way.

Writer #1 is an exuberant kid, bursting with thoughts and observations to share…until it’s time to write.  Then, he sits, hunched over his notebook or laptop, quiet and still.  There is a bit of writing, some tapping on the keyboards, some glancing around and requests for bathroom visits or sharpening and re-sharpening of pencils.  He has trouble holding his pencil, trouble keyboarding, and trouble staying focused.  During our first conferences of the school year, he’s say things like:”my hand hurts”, “my head hearts”, and on one memorable occasion, “my heart hurts.”  I didn’t have to wonder why he’d made that last statement, because by then I already knew: he had so much to say, but he had learned that saying it in writing was heartbreakingly difficult.

Our learning goal for the year was to find a way to make it not so.  Bit by bit, small step by small step, we are getting there.  I didn’t need complicated assessment tools to figure out how to help my kiddo – I just needed to watch him, understand him, and recognize that our journey would be a slow one – but that we’d find a way to get there.

Writer #2 is painfully shy.  She has a difficult time raising her hand, and her voice.  She is always the last one to volunteer an opinion, join into an activity, make her presence known.  But, when it’s time to write, she’s all in.  Her entire body seems to embrace her notebook, as she sets to work.  There is a firmness to the way she holds her pencil, and a purposeful determination to the way she makes it move, page after page after page.  Writing empowers her and gives her confidence; through it she finds, at last, her voice.

Our learning goal for the year has been to lift that voice from the page – to make our classroom ring with the sounds of those ideas spoken aloud.  It hasn’t been easy for either of us; I am sometimes impatient and she is sometimes reluctant.  But, I can tell from watching her when she is ready…and then I pounce: please share, I ask, please tell us what you are thinking.  And then she does.

Watching writers in action… thank you Tammy and Clare for connecting to what I was thinking…

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16 thoughts on “Slice of Life Tuesday: A tale of two writers (with thanks to @ClareandTammy)

  1. I missed the chat last night (while rewriting lesson plans)! Need to read the archives. You are reminding me that I need to pay more attention to my writers while they are writing not just the questions they might have or the words they might not know in English. Observing the writer in action–my new mission!

  2. I have those same writers. Clare and Tammy nailed it. Our kiddos are complex and writing is so heartbreakingly difficult for some ( as is reading ) and it has nothing to do with their minds. It’s just that they are not there yet. Your writers are so lucky to have you guiding them there! I love your tweet: looking at the page, not the student’s face. Seems a cautionary note for many aspects of teaching! I’m going back and favoriting that one!

  3. These writers seem so familiar. Your descriptions are vivid- I especially like the line about the girl who is all in when she goes to write. Thank you for sharing your observations of their writing journeys and the tweet that inspired this post. I saw that last night too. Looking forward to reading the archived version of the chat.

  4. Such thoughtful words here, Tara. I loved the tweet about watching the kids’ faces. I mean, how often do we really do that? You showed here that it’s important, we can learn so much.

  5. This year, I learned about something called Kidwatching. It has been a useful tool for me in figuring out how to help my students! Just today, I sat in front of a student and watched him struggle with how to begin a paragraph in an essay, and based on his behavior I asked some questions that helped confirm what I had deduced from my observation, to get him writing.
    By the way, I like how these two students are juxtaposed!

  6. I love your thinking. I’m so happy I found your SOL today. This part in particular:
    “my heart hurts.” I didn’t have to wonder why he’d made that last statement, because by then I already knew: he had so much to say, but he had learned that saying it in writing was heartbreakingly difficult.
    resonates for me. I have so many children for whom this is true. We’ve been working little by little to get those thoughts on paper without too much worry about how they look at first. Watching them work can be so insightful and in this push push push land of education we don’t have the time, but we must make the time.

  7. Tara,
    Your descriptions of your writers brought to mind some similar students from my past. . . depending on the genre of writing, I think I have been BOTH of those kiddos! Writing is all about taking students, quite literally where they are, and moving them up the mountain of print and possibilities in writing! The sky is the limit if we provide time, support and a student-friendly environment that does not require all students to march forward in a “lock-step” fashion.

    Lucky kiddos – they have you, watching them! Learning and growing together! That’s the work of writing!

  8. Tara, i am a proponent of “kidwatching” as we used to call thoughtful watching. It all begins with the learner and so if we watch carefully we can become attuned to how to make our next move. Assisting our learners towards expressive talk and writing can become challenging but I think that kidwatching helps me think through the next move. When I share my thoughts with the child, then the real magic happens as we converse.

  9. I have both kinds of writers. They can be frustrating. I have a writer who needs me to approve every step she takes. She is a good writer who lacks confidence and yet some others who speed through and pay less attention to the content. We need to keep listening and watching. Patience.

  10. The way you describe your reluctant writer, wow, saw him in action today. You have helped me reframe the way I want to work with him. I was settling into grumpy-teacher mode. The empathy can be enough, the shared sense of one step at a time… thank you!

  11. Wise words indeed, the watching and waiting and nudging. I loved hearing the descriptions of your students, Tara, and your words about helping them through watching and making goals, even if they’re your own private ones. You’ve written similarly to my idea today, to take time & be patient, allow the student to be the guide. Thanks for sharing some of the chat last night-could not make it, but it sounds ‘rich’!

  12. Tara,
    Like others here, I thank up you for sharing your inspiration. Realizing the power in kid watching and reflecting on their journeys as learners will help them grow…they are so blessed to have you as their guide!

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