The Big Picture

Happy cold, rainy Sunday.  I think we are officially into Fall and by “officially into Fall” I mean that it’s not the cold in the morning, but warms up by noon and cools off at sunset time of year anymore.  It’s all the time cold.  I guess it’s the cold days that make the warm ones so great.  Fall is still my favorite though!

And that brings me to my next point: 3rd grade writing

What does the weather have to do with writing?  Everything!  The inconsistency, the dread, the warmth, the unexpected.  Writing in third grade, any grade actually, is inconsistent, sometimes painful, and other times completely unexpected.  It can be the most beautiful or terrifying thing you read all day.  I love it.

My easy going attitude about writing comes naturally I think.  If you read my post about journaling last week you’d know that I love writing, but I definitely understand that not everyone does.  I don’t stress over how my students spell or how much time it takes them to finish a story or essay.  That stuff is important, but not as important as the basics.

What are the basics?  Being able to communicate or portray the message that you intend on portraying is the basic use of writing.  That is my number one goal for students.  Once students can do that, we talk about structure.  Then we talk about choice and enriching our writing.  Then we can worry about spelling.  In real life, we have spell check, dictionaries, and editors.  Don’t get me wrong, spelling is important and it’s something students need to learn how to do, but learning to communicate is much more important and spelling can take a backseat.

If you need a concrete example, let me take this opportunity to brag on a student of mine.  We’ll call her M for short.  M came into third grade unmotivated.  She had a hard time staying on task and completing assignments.  I heard a lot of “I dunnos” from her.  Then we started writer’s workshop where I give a lot of choice to my students.  I let them be kids!  I let them write about kid stuff in kid language using their kid imaginations!  M is a chatter box and loves to share stories with me so the line, “OOOH that sounds like an awesome story!  You should write that in your writing notebook!” was mentioned a hundred times and one day she had a story that she wanted to share so bad that she started right away. She was so excited to begin only to stop when she didn’t know how to spell the word upon.  She sat with her hand raised, not writing, until I made my way to her. She didn’t want to look it up, she was embarrassed to ask a friend, and I wouldn’t spell it for her. She looked bewildered when I told her that I didn’t care if it was misspelled.  “What do you mean?” she asked.  “I mean, just keep writing.  Right now spelling doesn’t matter.”  “Yes, but–” “Just circle the word so that we remember to fix it and keep writing!”  This, of course, was the perfect intro that I needed for my “Just Circle It” mini lesson, but I digress.  M began writing again and later that day finished her story.

I couldn’t read M’s story very well, but when she read it aloud it was great.  She went on to type her story and spell check caught a lot of her mistakes which I think gave her more confidence in her writing.  M continued to write all quarter, every chance she got.  She would write them on paper and then type them on the computer. Her stories were super interesting and little kid weird.  They were great.

Fast forward to this past week, our first week back since we tracked out, and M is off task ALL. THE. TIME.  I finally went over to her desk and picked up what it was she was working on and she had written a beautiful story and I could read it!  There were still mistakes, but I could read every word myself and the mistakes were exponentially fewer than before.  It was awesome. I wasn’t even mad about her off task behavior anymore (of course I took her story “so she could pay attention, young lady!” but really it was to save face… I was so proud!)

This experience with M made me so thankful that I don’t hold on to those more traditional expectations for student writing.  Grammar and spelling aren’t my main focus, which may get me some sideways glances, but it encourages my students to write.  They know that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be a great story.  Even if M is my only student (she’s not) that has learned to communicate with her pencil this year, even if she’s the only one, I definitely think those sideways glances are worth it.

I am sorry for her middle school teachers that will mutter under their breath, “Those dang elementary teachers didn’t teach her anything!” when she turns in her 6 page essay when the requirement was 2, but (re)teaching someone the differences between there, they’re, and their is much easier than trying to reframe a middle schooler’s bad outlook on writing.

For now I’ll keep sharing the joys of writing.  I’ll keep teaching my phonics and grammar lessons too, but when it comes to Writer’s Workshop I’ll just let them write.

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2 comments

  1. This is spot on! I too enjoy writing but only a few of my students do. Most of the time I get complaints about why they should write so I spend a great deal of class explaining the importancof writing and how it is used in the “real world”. Like you I also do not stress about how long it takes my students to finish a essay or record in their reading response journals. I just want them to get into practice of writing.

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  2. Coming from a middle school teacher- yes, it is frustrating when students come to us and are unable to capitalize proper nouns or put their commas in the right places, but it is usually as a result of the student having resisted the “chore” of writing in previous years. If we only give students corrective comments and tell them what they are doing wrong, they will shut down. Forget the sideways looks, if you are instilling a love (or at least a tolerance) of writing in a student, you are doing a great job!

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