When I saw her this week, she mentioned that she was still teaching writing the way I presented it to them that year. That made me feel so good, I quickly added, "Well, then you should be reading my blog!" I wanted to encourage her and my intent was to celebrate her excitement, but...
She reacted just as quickly by taking a step backward. "Oh, no. That just makes me feel like I'm not doing it right. I can't read those things. I don't even look at Pinterest." (I may be slightly misquoting my colleague. But this was most definitely the gist of what she was saying to me. Forgive me, teacher friend!)
Outwardly, I tried to hold onto my smile.
Inwardly, I gulped.
On this blog, I try to present the best of what is happening in our classrooms. My hope has always been to highlight what is possible with our youngest writers. But in my room, just like in yours, there are many other writers whose work is less developed; and their stories are often not wholly composed and many times minimally captured through illustration. These are the students beside whom we sit day after day, asking them to tell us what is happening on the page. Asking them what their story is about. Because we can't tell from the drawings. For every student whose work I have proudly displayed here, there are many others whose writing is much more approximated.
And, after a full quarter of the school year, we know which students need more scaffolds. Which students require more persistent nudging. Which students are the quiet strugglers who never ask for help, but who need someone to listen to their story to help them capture it on paper.
So, today, I am going to share one of those writers' stories. We believe in them as surely as we believe in the writers whose stories are clearly written, consistently told, and fully illustrated. You are right, my teacher friend! I need to be highlighting more writers who are approximating composition based on our instruction. This is the heart of our teaching. For all of us!!
Below are the pages of one of our writer's book, The Very Hungry Shark. You can see on the "Sunday", "Monday", and "Tuesday" pages that this writer is literally all over the page with his illustrations. You cannot tell what his main character is, and there is little to no consistency across the pages, despite our explicit instruction to try and draw the same character each day.
But, then, look at "Wednesday" and "Thursday"! Suddenly, we see a main character that looks the same on each page. There are also some other characters that appear on both days. The writer was supposed to show the shark eating a certain number of the same food each day. By Wednesday, he was to have been eating three and by Thursday, four. I don't think that is clear on either page, although I think I see a "4" up in the corner of Thursday. So, in order to understand this writer's story, I will need to sit next to him and have him tell me what is happening on each page.
That's okay! I will tell him I can see how hard he is working, and I will absolutely gush over his work on the last two pages. Clearly, he has been working toward our instructional objectives...he just needs more time, maybe a lot more time, to approach mastery. (Side note: On the "Monday" page, he told us his shark was eating "spicy burritos" - that's the kind of voice that you just can't teach :)
Oh, it is in there! I promise you. We have chosen to take a path in this kindergarten classroom that puts understanding story first. And we have oodles of writings to show that most of our students do understand. But we have lots and lots and lots of work to do with these children to help them connect their wonderful compositions in art to letters and words that carry meaning across time. We are far, far from that place with most of our students.
So, at the end of the day, teaching writing to kindergartners and first graders is challenging and requires patience and persistence. There is no magic to what we are doing at my school. We are just going in there every single day and talking to kindergartners in exactly the same way we would talk to Mr. Eric Carle. Some of our writers will add words and sentences much earlier than others. But we will keep sitting next to each of them, day in and day out, because we believe. Honestly, I think that is the only solid requirement for teaching writing to anyone - you have to believe they can do it! And they will!