Sunday, October 20, 2013

National Day on Writing: Modeling

After following the #nctechat Twitter conversation about the National Day on Writing, I wondered how much I model writing for my students.  Modeling great behaviors...that's what teachers are supposed to do, and yet do we always?

A few years ago, my principal scheduled an observation in my classroom as part of the regular schedule he followed to observe all teachers in the building.  There weren't going to be any bells and whistles.  In fact, we kept to our typical routine of writing, mini-lesson, and reading in our literacy workshop.  And, as was also typical, I slid into a student desk during reading time and enjoyed an adolescent book (I believe at that time I was in the middle of the Haddix series Among the Hidden).  Beside me sat a fidgety fellow who had eyes for everything but his book until I settled myself in a desk in the next row.  At that moment, we were all reading.  It may have been the presence of the principal.  I think it had more to do with the presence of my book and my engagement with it.

I have marked the same engagement during writing time over the years.  Nothing screams "busy work" louder than an assignment given while the teacher grades papers or puts grades in the computer.  I found that active writing or whispered conferences with a student about his or her writing encouraged more pen-to-paper action than the words "keep writing" ever did.  Even actively responding on a student's paper offered limited effectiveness because it was seen as "grading."  So, my notebook filled with half-finished fan fiction stories (I really should finish the one I started based on Boo Radley), class ideas, journal entries, and poems.  If my notebook topic du jour meshed with the direction of the class lesson that day, I also shared what I wrote.  I hesitated to do that too often, though, because I tend to philosophize a great deal, which becomes unbearably tedious at times for the students (and others, I'm sure).

Without having a middle school classroom this year, it will be difficult for me to enact a day on writing with my own students.  In my studies at the university, though, I hope I have the opportunity to instruct a class on teaching writing.  This is not so much because I think I have a great lesson to teach, but rather that I have so much more to learn.  My students have taught me about telling stories and about listening to them.  They have also reinforced how important modeling is in teaching, especially in writing.  I'm not sure I'll be able to finish my story if I don't have a classroom of students to encourage me.  And that's when they become models for me.