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We were in the zone of discomfort yesterday, and it did not feel good.
All of last week, we had worked hard to create writing lists and visual writing tools. All of last week, I had heard my students storytelling as they worked to create their lists and maps. And all of last week there was a confidence and a sense of joy in this storytelling. They were comfortable with storytelling, which is the foundation of our writing workshop. That’s wonderful, I thought to myself on Friday, we are ready to move from collecting writing seed ideas to stretching those ideas into writing entries.
On Monday, I walked my kids through my process of sifting through my lists and visuals, weighing the merits and interests of a few selections, and then deciding upon one to write about. I thought aloud, modeling my quick-sketch of the seed idea, and the way I tried to think through the narrative once more, just to make sure that I had at least a tentative road map. Then, I asked my kids to sift through their own lists and decide on their own writing topics and plans as they sat at our meeting area. Once they felt ready to begin, they were to return to their seats and begin writing in their writer’s notebooks. I looked around at attentive faces, seemingly ready to begin writing.
So far, so good.
I took my perch on the stool in front of the classroom, my own notebook open and began to write. Deep into my first paragraph, I glanced up to check in on the progress my students were making. A few had begun sketching out writing game plans, but many were gazing up the ceiling and out the windows, and some were beginning to make the first of many treks to sharpen their pencils or grab a tissue.
But, writing takes time, and gazing about or getting up to stretch is all part of my writing process as well. I went back to my own writer’s notebook.Ten minutes in, I glanced up to see more of the same…a few writers, many gaze abouters. My students seemed lost, their story telling desire extinguished.
We were settling into a zone of discomfort.
I knew that many of my kids wanted me to confer with them right away, to provide a nudge, or the beginnings of a plan. Some had a title, some had the first few sentences, some had erased what they had written several times over…now, they had nothing.
The writing part of my brain continued to work on my entry, but the teaching part of my brain began to ponder the options. Should I let those struggling to begin writing continue to struggle? Or should I let my kids feel their way through this part of the writing process, the hardest part – making a choice and getting started?
It was uncomfortable.
But, my writer self also knows that this struggle is something every writer, from beginning to expert,lives through and learns from. Experience has taught me that each student finds their way through this struggle in their own way and in their own time. A conference nudge may get them going this one time, but not the next. If I swooped in to offer assistance, they will come to expect and rely upon it. It would be the easy way out for my kids (who were looking rather hopefully in my direction) and for me (who was beginning to feel guilty).
So, we stayed in the zone of discomfort. We muddled through…as all writers do.