Sunday, November 27, 2011

"And I ate it all."

I'm reading Lucy Calkins' Lessons from a Child. And it is blowing my mind. There are so many things that we do, that I do, as a writing teacher, and don't realize the effect it has on my little writers. Quoting M. Donaldson, she says, "...the ultimate aim of control is to render itself unnecessary." The ultimate purpose of a writing conference is to minimize the writer's dependence on me. Rather than doing things with their writing because Ms. M wants them to, my goal is for my students to make writing decisions because that's what good writers do and to make their writing better

I often fall into the trap of giving them prescribed solutions to the problems I see in their writing. If the writing is brief and undetailed, I'll ask them specific questions to draw a story out of them--but they won't write anything that I didn't ask them about. I'll teach a lesson on adjectives and encourage the students to use adjectives in their writing--and they will do it, but I can't honestly say that their writing is significantly better as a result of it. One of my little girls, little R, wrote about ice cream last week. I taught them about using adjectives to help describe what happened, so she wrote that she had vanilla ice cream, and it a was delicious. But the thing is, the best part of her story wasn't the "it was delicious" part. It was the part where she said, "And I ate it all." That one sentence tells me that it was delicious without telling me that it was delicious. And that is the kind of writing I want my students to do every day. 

But how do I teach into that? 

I have to think about why. Why do I want my students to write with adjectives? Why is that important? It's actually only kind of important. Adjectives are used to describe things. Why do we describe things? So that the reader can get a picture in their mind of what the writer experienced. So, rather than teaching my kids to use adjectives because I want them to, I need to instead teach them to describe. To create mental pictures. To help me see what they saw and hear what they heard and feel what they felt. When I told my kids that the juice that spilled in my purse was strawberry-flavored, they started licking their lips and rubbing their tummies and making smacking noises with their mouths. My kids could taste the juice in my purse. And that is exactly the effect that their writing should have on their readers.

Wow...I know what to teach in reading this week. I've got to find some really delicious books. 

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