Amplifying Minds

Learning and Growing Together

Archive for the category “NWP”

I Write For Myself

I write to think through what I am feeling.

I write to understand.

I write to reflect on behaviors, events and processes.

I write to find out what I have to say.

I write as a way of sharing myself.

I write to question…myself, life, events and behaviors, other people, the meaning of anything and everything.

I write to learn.

I write to play.

I write to be silly….or serious….or sad….or happy…..

I write to make sense of our world.

I write to be heard. (sometimes)

I write to be introspective. (sometimes)

I’d like to interact around my thoughts and yours.

If you don’t want to read me, or know me, or think with me, or write with me, don’t.

I don’t expect you to tell me what is good for me or not when it comes to writing.

I am a writer.

I am a thinker.

I write to think.

I write for myself.

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The National Writing Project-and Choice

I first participated in the National Writing Project (NWP) back in 1987 or so, I think, at the University of Virginia. The main thing I remember from that experience was kids had to experience choice to make writing meaningful for them. I kinda think they need to experience as much choice as we can give them to make anything meaningful to them. I’ll probably do a series of posts on the NWP and the impact it’s had on my life as a writer and a teacher, but this one will be about that choice–and how we all forget how important it is sometimes.

When I had my 5th grade literacy group all year, I used a wiki, WhitesLitGroup, to communicate with both the students and the parents.  It was mostly one way (me to them) and didn’t turn out at all to be the interactive experience I’d hoped it would, although, it you click on the “Table of Contents” link, there is a LOT of stuff there! The “Daily Doings” link was my “morning message” to them as they walked in–it gave them different info each day.  Sometimes it was specific directions, sometimes, an overview, sometimes a reminder–but it got our day going….

I remember I had this awesome idea to teach both media literacy and support their reading non-fiction, while integrating content from Social Studies. I asked the question,  “Was John Smith an historian or a liar?” I primed these 5th graders well–I told them the story of Pocahontas saving JS had been told by him no fewer than three times, all situated in different countries on his explorations.  I explained that researchers had a theory it was simply a ritual to invite others into their tribe.  I challenged everything they thought they “knew” about John Smith and even spoke to the lack of knowledge of teachers have sometimes.  I honestly admitted I had only learned these things the prior summer when I took a week long class in Jamestown and actually got to visit Werowocomoco, the site of Powhatan’s tribal village.  Initially they were intrigued they were learning stuff many teachers didn’t know.

They were engaged in our conversations, they were able to cite verbally information from the non-fiction reports and essays I had found online, as well as from the book excerpts I shared from my summer class. But, at the end of our study, when I asked them to take a stand, and then assess themselves through a rubric we constructed (found here) you can read for yourselves their responses–and they’re mostly really bad. AND the kids assessed themselves pretty accurately.

Now, I’m teaching a bunch of kids who are high performers or gifted…who are used to getting straight A’s on their report card, or darn close to that…who are often perfectionists, or at least want to be seen as doing an amazing job…who are highly motivated to succeed.  But on this task, they didn’t succeed, the work was sloppily done at best, and there were no examples I saw as exemplary to even talk about what “good” was.  So I asked them why the work was so bad.  I asked them why they judged themselves so low and why were they happy with that.

Their responses?

We’ll never know what the truth is, so who cares?

We didn’t choose this question–you did–we don’t care either he was lying or telling the truth.

We could argue one way or the other, but we cant go back there, so what does it matter?

and there were more variations on those themes….

Once again, I get feedback that choice is important…that inquiry should be individual, or co-constructed at the very least….that the teacher’s questions may not be germaine to the students….that research skills and media literacy need to be useful to the students for them to engage…and that even really smart, high performing kids will blow off what they deem to be a stupid assignment.

So, choice…..

Is it meaningful?  (A choice between a powerpoint and a prezi is not meaningful choice–that’s choosing options determined by the teacher.)

Is it worthwhile?  (These kids clearly didn’t get my agenda that history is constructed based on what we know and it is always subject to interpretation–or maybe they did, even better than me–and they chose not to engage with this particular dichotomy.

Is it substantive? (Where were the choices in this work? If you nose around on the wiki, you’ll see all kinds of educationalese…but does it matter to the kids?)

The NWP–in 1987–tried to teach me about choice…but I need reminders….and I need to think through what actions I can take to amplify student thinking better…. That’s the purpose of this blog.

Writing as Making

I believe writing is making.  Making meaning, making sense of our world, making beauty or stories or making ideas, or whatever….. and kids know that writing can be powerful. There are lots of research studies that say kids distinguish between school writing and other writing, so I won’t go there…because Lucy taught me that firsthand.

When I worked with her in fourth grade, she was an amazingly prolific writer who was also creative, funny and imaginative. She wrote a LOT about what she knew–which is one of the first rules about writing–write from your heart, your gut, your very soul–and talk about what you know.  You can certainly use writing to learn more, but it has to begin with a grain of something you know.  You can check out her fourth grade blog here, but the one that got my attention was this one. Not only was it full of visual imagery, but her imagination and belief came through. I still go back to reread it occasionally.  I still point people to it (like I am doing now.)

She went on to write about her pets, her family, her friends, and the language she used, her descriptions and her way of telling a story just really put me right there in the moment with her and her pets, especially. She was playful with language and format, and did most of her writing outside of school, on her own time.

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Then she moved to fifth grade and I got to teach her for reading group–not writing, just reading. There was a lot of pressure this particular year, because 5th graders take a state writing test in Virginia, and with teachers and students new to 5th grade, both the kids and teachers felt that pressure. Lucy especially felt that pressure, and blogged about it.  I think her blog post says it all, and clearly shows she sees a difference between “writing” (school writing) and her own creations.

The statement “Then I started to take mastery for writing and got so many suggestions from my teachers that it took the you out of writing because I felt like I was under pressure to remember all the things that they had put on my shoulders and that was just terrible.” is referring to the fact she felt pressure to follow a five paragraph essay formula, and that is not how she naturally writes. That’s not how she “makes” stories or tells tales, or shares her life. Without that formulaic writing crutch, her writing is excellent–and I had faith the scorers of her writing test would recognize her expertise.

I hope she’s gone beyond that formula and realized how important her own judgement is….I’d love to read some of her current writing. I hope she has not let other people take “the you out of writing”.

Most of all, I hope I never take the the you out of writing,  but instead let/help/support kids make it their own.

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