One of the reasons I haven’t wanted to publish my blog is that there are so many feelings, thoughts, ideas, and I can’t seem to bring them into a theme. And, frankly, they just were either too personal, or too much about the “me” in this teacher -student equation.
I wanted to end the year with at least one more blog. By year, I mean, school year, and that just made tears jump into my eyes (I think I stole that from Kenny’s voice in the Watsons.)
I’m super lucky that students are very used to working with an online spiral for me; we call it “The Fireworks” document. Our routine is that they do all their inquiry responses and reflections in that document, and we use the comment feature for feedback. It is such a treasure to have that routine in place because we can really talk about ideas, characters, thoughts, reflections in a way we’re all used to.
I’ve been reflecting a lot over the past few years about how my one-to-one conferencing has opened up to have so much more authentic dialogue. The bottom line is that we talk as mutual learners and thinkers. I ask them what they would like feedback on. Most of the time, they have ideas, but sometimes, they want to know what I think. I’ve set up routines and practices so that we don’t usually sit and look at work and say, “oh, good job”. Well, we never do that. So, it’s safe for them to know I’m not going to say that.
The more I pulled away from leading conferences, the more I realized that they owned their work. For instance, a student might tell me they’re stuck in their writing. I ask them what they want to do about it. They shrug. I shrug. Then, after some wait time, I ask them if they want to put it aside for a bit and try something else, or if they want ideas on how to get unstuck. It’s often 50/50 here.
I know a lot of people want to “finish” things, and that is a valuable goal, but not in learning writing. Most writers start many projects and put them aside until something clicks. That’s the process. So, I honor that with students’ writing. Finishing something is actually frowned upon. Who finishes quality writing in a week or two, or three? And, I’m talking about their passion choice writing, which, for most of them are novels, short stories, and screenplays. Even Stephen King cranks out a book then puts it in a drawer (I picture the bottom right drawer of his desk. I wonder if that is just my own fancy or if I read that), for a year. He socks it away for a year. So, we honor the process. All of writing leads to more writing, which leads to better writing.
But, here I am, once again, off course. One of my verbally gifted students, whose voice in her writing resounds like a coyote atop a canyon (I know, I really need to work on my figurative language), wrote something in her fireworks doc, and she asked me if it was swearing. She used the word heck. I told her it was not swearing the way she used it, but that it was a really clear reference. I thought at first, that I wanted to tell her she just should have written hell. I didn’t. But, if we were sitting side by side in the classroom, we could have talked about the pros and cons of word choice. She has sophisticated instincts, so I know I could have that conversation safely. I believe she would likely still not use “hell”, but the conversation itself would be one of writer to writer.
I’m glad I didn’t write that to her because though she is a bright, wise, gifted, student, she is also twelve. Or eleven. And she doesn’t like swearing. I applaud her for that. But without sitting beside her, I knew I needed to be direct and matter of fact, but I needed my written feedback to be “safer.”
So, here is what she said about her feelings about swearing when I assured her that she didn’t curse: “I just really don’t like cursing…”
Here was my written response: “It has its place when characterizing characters, but, yes, I agree, it is harsh sounding, and it is often very derogatory.”
Her reply to my feedback: “Quite True.”
I guess all of this is what my blog theme is:
- I really miss the ability to sit next to my students. Nothing can take the place of not just looking at the person, but adjusting tone, body language, reading each other to make certain any message is heard and felt not just with accuracy, but with humanity.
- I really appreciate that I have been able to build the community of trust to relate with my students writer to writer, thinker to thinker
Gratitude: all of the above, learning with my students, connecting with students as writer to writer, learner to learner, human to human.
Goal: Continue to develop this feedback cycle within the constraints of not sitting side by side.
I have a P.S (or two):
- The student I referenced above worked with me on revisions of this.
- That student helped me with some much better figurative language, but I figured I should stick with my own because I like to show myself as a learner, and I am definitely a learner when it comes to crafting effective figurative language!
- That student gave me so much insightful feedback, and it was a true “loop” of feedback. We both got “off course” with our discussion. We discussed other writing ideas, techniques, and navigating our own moral compasses.