There’s this thing about students with attitudes. Sometimes I just do not deal well.
Last week while meeting with students one-on-one to discuss their improvement in class and their current writing piece, I felt a little beat up.
How is it that two students can ruin the euphoria I felt after conferring with everyone else?
First, N tells me that narrative will not fit anywhere in his piece.
“Because of the topic,” he told me.
“And your topic is?” I said.
“Governor Perry,” he told me.
“You’re writing something like a bio of the governor. Why won’t narrative work anywhere?”
I do not remember the actual words, but what he meant was “ I do not want to spend anymore time on this writing.”
Later, A tells me that no matter what she writes I tell her it’s not good enough.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Because you always ask a question about what I wrote,” she told me.
“And why do you think by asking questions I’m telling you your writing isn’t good enough?”
“I’m just giving up,” she told me, completely avoiding my question.
I do not remember the actual words she said next, but what she meant was “I do not want to work any harder.”
Tough luck, kiddos.
Too often my students just want to draft something roughly and turn it in for a grade. I’ve stopped even putting grades on papers, unless we are at the end of a grading period and the policy says I have to. So many students stop their process once that score sits on their page.
Here we are just starting our final nine weeks, and I must figure out how to do more with teaching writing process over writing product.
It’s an uphill stretch.
Students come to me with specific writing habits, and many are stalled on the hill, resisting the charge to be better. Since many of my kids have been in gifted and talented classes for years, they often think that learning comes easily. Maybe in some classes it does. But in my experience with English, too many teachers have not demanded growth through process and have been satisfied with students just turning in papers that will score an A. Mind you, not ALL teachers, but I can tell which teachers at the sophomore level value process over product and which do not, based on the attitudes and practices of the student when they come to my room their junior year. Or, maybe those sophomore teachers haven’t been able to change those bad habits either. I get that, too. Some of these students are stubborn in their know-it-all-ness.
I struggle with this every year: You know the student who walks in the door at the beginning of the year and could make a 5 on the AP exam if she took it that week. Do you grade her on the struggle of the writing process and her improvement as a writer, or do you grade her on the writing she is capable of at the beginning of the year, even if it’s already an A?
I tend to want to see improvement in all my writers– even the ones who are already pretty good at it when they come to me.
But this year, maybe I haven’t emphasized that enough. I’ve written in front of them, shown them my struggle, used mentor texts, conferred with them individually, begged, prayed.
I pulled out Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg a while ago and read a few pages in the front of the book. I got my center back. I also got a few thoughts I may write on sticky notes and hand to N and A as they come to class tomorrow.
“You practice whether you want to or not.” p11
“You have to give yourself the space to write a lot without a destination.” p11
“It’s the process of writing and life that matters.” p12
“We must continue to open and trust in our own voice and process.” p13
“Writing is so simple, basic, and austere.” There are no fancy gadgets to make it more attractive.” p26
No doubt when I keep reading I will find more and more advice from Goldberg that will help me help my students. I love that about good writers who want to help others become good writers, too.
Where do you go to find your center? Who are your personal writing coaches?