by Jill DeRosa
My writing identity is something I lived a long time without. Until I was in my thirties, writing for me was a task to complete; a report for school, a reaction paper, a letter to a parent. My writing was driven by something I needed to accomplish for my job, my school, or for my family. Writing was not enjoyable for me, it was always done with a purpose that was driven by outside forces. I did not see myself as a writer. Not for one minute.
It wasn’t until I became friends with, Jenn Hayhurst. She is a writer who knows how powerful our words can be. She is not afraid to take risks and put her ideas on paper and into the world. She says we have ideas to share with the world and asks if I would be willing to write alongside her. I am afraid because I don’t see myself as a writer. I am confident in my ability to teach but writing about it is a totally different thing. Jenn is supportive and I decide to give it a try, starting out small. As we write together, I start to see a change in me. I am a writer. I just needed to write about things that mattered to me. I needed to write for myself first and then for my audience. My writing had to be sparked by things I cared about and wanted to share.
I take my writing experiences with me into my classroom each and every day. Do I provide time for my students to find their writing identities? How do I make room in our curriculum to provide room for choice in writing and tools? In classrooms, I often see teachers facing a similar dilemma; when we are writing in a certain mode or in a unit of study, how can we make room for authentic writing that is sparked by what matters to our students. We need to make the time, this is the place where our students will find their identities; writing alongside partners or in groups, creating comics, writing series about characters they have created, writing informational pieces about gross insects or dangerous animals. Nothing makes me happier than looking around my classroom and seeing kids fully engaged in writing that matters to them knowing that their words are powerful and can make a difference. Students bringing in writing they have done at home or bring their writing to recess because they just can’t stop writing; it is a part of who they are.
It is through a friendship and a deep appreciation for writing that my writing identity was formed. It’s never too late to find yours.
If you live in New York – January means crisp blue skies and frosty windows. It’s Times Square, bright lights, and bursts of carefree abandon. No sooner has the confetti been swept away when most us face this new celestial trek around the sun contemplating our lives, as we make resolutions for the next revolution. We set goals and action plans for one thing or another for example, the long lines at my weekly Weight Watcher’s meeting can attest to the simple optimistic spirit of fresh starts and hopeful endeavors.
If all that seems too big, we can start the New Year off in a small but powerful way. Our friend, Julieanne Harmatz, master fifth grade teacher and blogger’s recent post: One Little Word 2017 inspired us to take on this challenge. If you’re not familiar with One Little Word, it began in 2006 when Ali Edwards started a phenomena of selecting a word to focus and reflect on throughout the year. We do believe in the power of words, because let’s face it, we are writing the narratives of our lives. Deeming this challenge to be a worthy one, we decided to give it a go.
Imagine if you could hold a word in your hand as a way to keep a promise to yourself to keep a steady thread throughout the broader tapestry of your life. A tiny reminder that transcends where you are now to where you aspire to be:
Sunlight’s gift to earth is vitality, each ray of energy promotes growth for everything within its reach. We are drawn to energy, and energy is drawn to us. Learning and joy are infused through vitality. When you walk into a school the first thing you ought to feel is vitality – coupling optimism, and growth. It should be contagious, a presence that makes students and teachers yearn to be there. You know you have hit the sweet spot for vitality when you hear conversations bubbling outside the classroom door – learning is alive and well. Vitality is the spark that motivates children to get lost in their books, writing stories, or even solving difficult problems. Children are naturally drawn to energy – and that is why vitality is also a word for teachers to embrace as well. We provide environments that flow with energy – that’s what we do!
Life thrives on earth because of its proximity to the sun. If we were a little closer or a little further away, if we were not tilted on our axis our world would be a barren and desolate place. There is untapped potential for power in the word proximity when it comes to learning. Consider the gradual release of responsibility. We can move from a scaffold to independence if we look at proximity through a power lens. We are adjusting access and support. Learners are drawn to what they need to be successful. When we use proximity to space, time, or relationships we cultivate greater independence for learning. In order to be independent writers students may need close access to tools – this is proximity in space. A teacher may set a personal reading goal for the year to model independent reading over time – this grants proximity in terms of time. Students may be working in a book club, teachers form these groups not only by interest and ability but by the potential for interpersonal growth – proximity for relationships. Although all of these examples are different they share the same root. Proximity is a link to transfer because it is a natural trigger for differentiation. It’s a simple yet sophisticated tool, one that is a readily available power source to boost or sustain greater independence. There is beauty in simplicity.
A student came to us with an idea, what if students could had a little bit of time to work on something that was totally their idea. She was pitching a fifteen minute creativity break during the day. We believe in the power of choice, and we are always looking for ways to maximize engagement. Her idea was an easy one to honor. This was her idea and she was going to be the one to share it with her peers. Click here to read her post from Voices From the Classroom
What was most striking was how clear she was when sharing her idea with the class. She explained how this would work and what they needed to do. The kids responded beautifully, they went off and got to work. It was interesting to see how the students used the time to create their projects with total independence. Not a moment was wasted. There was a lot of diversity in the kinds of projects kids wanted to create: math games, musical instruments, mapping out summer reading, informational texts, and responses to reading and writing. Their work revealed what aspects of learning were most significant for each child. During the share it was apparent that students were being influenced by each other’s work. They were drawing up creativity plans for the next time.
When we give students freedom we gain control and rigor It seems counterintuitive to many but it’s the truth. This is not arts and crafts, this is connected work that allows students to take some ownership over their own focused learning. This idea came from a student,, her idea matters, we value her thinking and this empowers her and challenges a student who is already performing above grade level. This synthesis and evaluative work is just what she needs to continue to grow. This is really just another way to differentiate in the 21st Century Classroom.