As I worked on the last trimester’s report cards I revisited the writing of my 2nd grade ELL students. As I reread their “Why I Write” pieces I was reminded that my reasons for helping them develop the ability to write must be more than just the production of a school assignment, and for me that’s worth remembering.
My 7 and 8 year old ELL students are typically thrilled to be at school. It’s one (and only one) of the reasons that I love being their teacher. They love the pointy Dixon pencils. They love routine. They love sharing their thinking on just about everything - from why no one REALLY lives on Mars – “It’s not airy enough”, to what aps I should put on my phone, “Mrs. Devlin, you REALLY need to get Angry Birds.” They love learning new things. They are mostly happy to do whatever work we develop, or that I assign. Most recently this is evidenced by their willing participation in my piloting of the writing program, Being a Writer.
I’m not much of a program follower. In fact, I would characterize myself as a NON-program follower. I’ve found that my practice is better influenced by what I’ve learned from reading research, talking with my writing project colleagues, and actual classroom practice. Additionally, a script has never been helpful to me, and the programs seem to not be very practical - seldom geared toward the individual needs of my ELL students. But this one has been different so far. It has fit into the writer’s workshop model, and coupled with the differentiation that is necessary in any ELL classroom, the lessons have given my students prompts that have produced some terrific writing.
But in my effort to follow the guidelines of the program, I found that I hadn’t been thinking enough about their motivation for writing. They like all the parts of school so much, that I had forgotten that one very real rationale for helping them become writers is so that they can use writing for their own purposes. Just like me, they work at honing the craft of writing for very personal reasons.
Last October, for the National Day on Writing I asked them to write about WHY they wrote. After a class discussion to clarify the question, and to orally rehearse what they would write, they went at the task with their usual excitement. They drew pictures and wrote stories about their “why”, and their answers ranged as widely as their writing ability. What I found out about the 21 seven year olds who I live and work with each day, is that their motivation runs far deeper than I would have expected had I only looked at their daily class product. What I loved about what I read in their pieces was that they have very real, very smart, very heartfelt reasons for writing that go beyond turning in a piece at school. While some of my students write for school reasons, others see writing as a very personal, necessary thing. I was surprised to read that one of my more distant students sees writing as a way to process emotions. A few see writing as communication with others. Cesar’s letters keep loved ones up to date; Daysi uses writing to get her friends to come over, and Andrea found that writing was a way she could tell her father that she missed him. My students see people in their family writing – Gidman watched his uncle write a letter to his father who had passed; put the letter in a balloon, and send it up “to heaven.” Daniela and Roxy both see that writing involves an audience, and thankfully, I am not the only audience.
I am the main facilitator in my room. And as that person it is important for me to remember that I am helping my students become writers so that when they leave my classroom, they have the tools they need to write for their very own purposes, not just so they can perform in school, write to a prompt, or pass a test. These things are all important, and I have an obligation to my students to help them develop the tools they need to achieve in the school world. But for my students, I was reminded that writing is also personal and necessary. Now there’s a lesson worth learning.
To see a movie with student writing and art samples discussed here, go to https://picasaweb.google.com/rkadevlin/Movies02?authkey=Gv1sRgCK2Q1tWzqqLl6QE#
Music from Appalachia Waltz, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Mark O’Connor: Butterfly’s Day Out, (O’Connor – Arr. Meyer) 1996 Sony Music