I got to know Bennett because he “grew up” in my classroom.
I got to know Kathy because she discovered how much reading could challenge her thinking.
I got to know Austin because his sense of curiosity, coupled with his sense of humor, brought him back after graduation to share his insights on college level critical thinking with my students last year.
I got to know Trevor because he had lost his love of reading, and workshop helped him find it again.
I got to know Abbey because I unknowingly played a part in developing her confidence.
We get to know our students in countless ways and through countless circumstances. Through conferences, writers notebook entries, overheard conversations, questions, books in their hands, and sometimes simple nods and smiles, we better understand the humans we as teachers are blessed to work with everyday.
And it is my belief that understanding (connecting with, acknowledging, listening to) students is the component that makes true growth and learning possible. As in life, building relationships breeds understanding, compassion, insight, tolerance, empathy…the list goes on and on (and as I’m typing this, is strikingly similar to a list of reading/writing benefits as well. Coincidence? I think not).
Yet, there are plenty of students I feel like I never get to know as I should. In fourteen years of teaching, I’ve had the opportunity to know roughly 2000 students. That’s 2000 unique life experiences, desires, learning styles, and needs, and I’d be lying if I said I connected, to the degree I might have wanted to, with each and every one, or even most.
But workshop does bring me closer. I talk more with students than at students now, and it makes a world of difference. I’m also offering up more opportunities these days for students to have real and honest connections with the classes I’m teaching. They share who they are in what they choose to read, how they respond to it, and what they write in far more meaningful ways, because the personal connections they create with the material allows for more depth.
My task now is to match those personal connections to learning through assessment of their acquisition of skills.
Not simple. Not at all simple.
But you know this. I’m pushing at an open door.
And yet, I would wager, it’s rarely easy for any of us.
So. How to keep students honestly sharing, deeply thinking, connecting to their reading, and growing as writers?
The one pager.
Shana wrote about weekly one pagers about a year ago, and I first started them with my AP students last January. It’s a simple concept. Students write every week. They write what they think, feel, and want to explore.
My modification for my AP students is to have them write weekly about what they are reading independently or specifically for class. The emphasis is to contextualize a chosen quote that they find impactful in some way and then react to it. Part craft study, part reflection, part magic. Beyond that, I encourage students to let their writing flow. 500 words (ish). Single spaced. Analysis. Reflection. Once per week. No exceptions.
Since the point is to write more (and more, and more, and more), I try to keep in mind that I don’t need to read every word. With four sections of AP Language this year, totalling 81 students, I’d be in way over my head. So instead, I keep the scores formative, rotate through the classes to comment on one section of the four per week, and give completion scores for those I skim over. Students use turnitin.com to submit the writing each week, so it’s organized and in one place. Occasionally, we’ll discuss our quotes in small groups and/or use the writing for some craft study in class.
Those are the logistics.
My favorite part of this practice, however, is the way it provides a safe place for my writers to grow, and when they really embrace the exercise, fantastic things happen.
At the start of this school year, I received an email from Simrah, a former student who finds herself in college this year:
I hope you are doing well. I’m having a wonderful time in college and have been meaning to email you to say thank you for having us write one pagers. In English these first two weeks of school, we have been writing one pagers on different readings. Doing so last year was very helpful. We continue to write one page type essays in my class as a grade and being able to do it without question has been great! You can tell you AP Lang students I said this. Thanks again and I hope you have a wonderful school year. Hopefully I’ll stop by the school some time to say hello personally 😉 ❤
Simrah —– (a very thankful one pager writing college student)
Just this week, as I introduced my AP Language students to their upcoming “opportunity” to grow as writers, I received an email from Charlie, a young man whose heart is big, his desire to learn is bigger, and unfortunately, this week, he had an unexpected topic emerge for his one pager that turned his piece into an outpouring of emotion that he desperately needed and brought tears to my eyes.
Charlie lost his grandfather this past weekend. Up to this point, Charlie and I have laughed together, as he is a wonderfully personable young man, but I wouldn’t say we had particularly connected. Then he emailed me Sunday to (can you believe) apologize for going over the word limit on the one pager and share with me a picture of how striking the resemblance is between his grandfather at the same age Charlie is now.
Charlie’s writing touched me. He quoted Dr. Seuss in saying, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened,” and went on to detail the events of the past week and his deep thinking/feeling about them.
When I hugged him this morning, he smiled again, and then hung back for a few minutes after class to tell me more about his grandpa, how the family was doing, and how he was doing. It was a conversation he needed to have and I was honored to share it with him. He joked on his way out the door that it would be hard to top his first one pager this coming weekend, but he would try.
Earlier in the weekend, Charlie had ended our email exchange by saying, “I am so lucky to have a teacher like you who cares so much.”
Well, Charlie, you’re sweet to say, but really, I’m the lucky one.
Because I’ve gotten to know Charlie, Bennett, Kathy, Austin, Trevor, Abbey, and I’m learning more and more ways to know more and more students.
I’m getting to know them in ways that truly matter.
As writers of one pagers. Simple assignments that can be simply amazing.
Have you tried “one pager” writing in your classroom? How do you work to build fluency in your students’ writing. Please share in the comments below.