Slice of Life Tuesday: The Zone of Discomfort

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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.

20 thoughts on “Slice of Life Tuesday: The Zone of Discomfort

  1. “We muddled through.” A wise three word phrase. The zone of discomfort is a hard place to be. Love your words “…each student finds their way through this struggle in their own way and in their own time.””

  2. I believe that the difference between a writer and someone who hasn’t gotten there yet is the stamina it takes to get through the discomfort and write anyway. Thank you for sharing the struggle so everyone isn’t walking around thinking no one else suffers through this.

  3. We all know writing is not easy. It is natural to want to jump in and help our students get over whatever is blocking their progress. However, by letting them be you taught them an important lesson about writing and one that will make them better for it.

  4. >So, we stayed in the zone of discomfort. We muddled through…as all writers do.<

    A beautiful ending to this slice! We all do muddle through it time to time and it is never a bad thing to be honest about those feelings! In time, that muddling will become less and less as the writers continue to develop. Thank you for sharing this slice with us! 🙂

  5. I love reading about the moments in the classroom. i chuckled thinking how your writing part of the brain and your teaching part of the brain had to negotiate the best option to proceed.It’s good that your teacher brain listened to the writer brain and allowed the young writers go through the struggle.

  6. Love your words, “zone of discomfort” and smiled as I read about those hopefully looking your way. I have said that it’s a good thing when parents or teachers learn to bit their tongues and stay quiet, and it seems that you did, although it is hard! And know ” If I swooped in to offer assistance, they will come to expect and rely upon it.” Great stuff, Tara.

  7. This is an important post, Tara. I can’t help but think of John Cage’s notion of masterpiece. He wrote that “For something to be a masterpiece you have to have enough time to talk when you have nothing to say.”

    Glad you let the discomfort reign.

  8. This is so interesting to me, Tara. I love how you wrote about your teacher brain versus your writer brain. I just love that.

    I think you were wise to let them feel the discomfort. How else will they ever know what that feels like?

    So many teachers would just throw their hands up and say “They can’t do this” or “They need help.” Only a writer-teacher would be as patient and wise as you were here.

  9. We have all been in the zone of discomfort. We stretch our definition of a writer when we work to get out of that zone. Muddling through is never easy, but a much needed step. Good for you and your “teacher brain.”

  10. I think it’s important for kids to learn to muddle through. It’s a valuable life lesson and a good writing lesson, too. Kudos to you for teaching them that. 🙂

  11. I love how you capture the moments in class after you have modeled and scaffolded and provided all sorts of writing support and you see something you didn’t quite expect. Those are uncomfortable moments. I’m delighted to see you let them be just that and that you let the writers work their ways through them (then and likely tomorrow and or the next day). I wish I were in your class!

  12. Muddling through is murky and scary. I want to hear the happy ending to this story. The day when all pencils are moving at furious rates. The day they can’t wait for writer’s workshop. It’s coming. I can feel it. We just can’t force the process because that would be unfair to the process.

  13. And the winner was . . . the writing brain that valued struggle. It’s so hard to do this if the teacher isn’t already a writer! We said we would be there beside the students. They must do the work!

  14. Holding the teacher self back takes a wise writer, faith in the muddling process, and a bit of bravery. So appreciative of you sharing the trials and tribulations of real writing work.

  15. There is so much wisdom in this slice, Tara! Grappling with choosing a topic and getting started is often the hardest part of writing. It’s so hard to stand back and let “each student [find] their way through this struggle in their own way and in their own time,” but that is how writers find their voice. Thank you, as always, for sharing these insights from your classroom!

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