Monday, March 9, 2015

The Beauty of Hesitation: Teaching Writing (#SOL15, Day 9)

Telling  & Writing Stories via Spilled Paint (Newark, NJ 2015)

When I work with teachers and students my commitment to them is most often long-term as in years.  We do not take on a lot of clients, but the ones we do are most often multi-year commitments. This allows for deeper, more complicated relationships to develop.

At the start of these relationships, I try to remember the beauty of hesitation--how it allows us to pause, to gather ourselves so to speak, to learn how to trust one another. It was with this in mind that I began working in Roger Watson's 4th grade classroom in Newark, NJ this past January. We had agreed to start writing notebooks in order to help the children build a bit of writing muscle and to afford them the time and respect to notice and name their worlds.  

The pressure to conform to the demands that accompany high-stakes testing leaks into classrooms, tinges the day-to-day work. The singular emphasis on writing in response to test-like prompts too often mars the writing of children, silences the creativity of teachers especially those whose lives are complicated by unrelenting poverty. I'm reminded when I work with Roger how teachers need to be brave in these days of CCSS and PARCC and say no to the prescriptive nature of scripted programs, the endless series of writing on demand prompts, and other such nonsense. I'm reminded of this because Roger is brave.

Saying no to what is bad for children shows them how one refuses to be colonized.

A Wicked Witch
The morning after the first workshop, Roger showed me a poster some of the children had made. It said simply, Writing is Fun. In the weeks since then I have tried to keep in mind the children's important words. Writing ought to be fun, especially when you are 9 or 10. 

During the last 8 weeks I've watched children who at first were penning one to two sentences begin to fill two to three pages in a sitting (or standing, or lounging on the floor...). I am watching them turn to one another and share their important words, ideas, questions. Throughout the different engagements we have done, their joy is a presence that (in)forms the work we do. In addition to these engagements, Roger also provides students with time each day for their self-determined writing.

There's such joy in hearing the children laugh, a contagious giggle that permeates the room and my heart. Folks, there is no shame in having fun, be it at school or beyond those doors.


  1. IThis sentiment is profound -- "Saying no to what is bad for children shows them how one refuses to be colonized." I am in awe of your ability to get to the fun!

  2. It's absolutely about the choices we make that determine the conditions for learning. Thanks for a thoughtful post to start our week.

  3. brave words, brave deeds...and the children prosper. Loved that photograph, you could tell how engaged the children are!

    1. They do prosper. We need to tone down the attention and privilege we assign to external tests. Our response often distracts us from what is most critical. Thanks Tara:)

  4. Capturing the challenging demands of working with children struggling with poverty is not an easy thing to do. Thank you for capturing and naming a slice of that.

    1. I have mostly worked in areas where children have little economic security. It angers me that this is even a reality in a country where wealth needs to be distributed.


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