We made it through the first week of Teachers Write! I loved checking in on Kate and Gae's blogs and seeing people talk about their writing on Twitter at #teacherswrite. I love how we are all supporting each other!
This week, I've asked Jenn from Fountain Reflections to talk about her experience with a writing institute and how that changed her as a writer and as a teacher of writing. This summer of writing is as much about improving our own writing as it is about realizing how to better facilitate our students' writing.
As a teacher, I have always felt that teaching writing was my biggest weakness. Through all of my years in school, elementary through college, I was given a writing assignment and expected to complete it. No modeling. No mentor texts as examples. I would write what I thought my teacher or professor wanted and hope for the best.
When I began teaching, I did what my teachers had modeled: I gave a writing assignment and expected my students to complete it. They would complete it, sure, but with errors galore. I would instruct students to proofread their rough draft, and they would read through it, say, “It’s good!” and turn it in. Then (just like my teachers had done for me) I would spend hours correcting all of their mistakes, which they would then copy for their final draft. It was exhausting doing their work for them, and my students weren’t becoming better writers.
I knew I had to do something to strengthen my skills in teaching writing. Something drastic. So I gave up three weeks of my summer to attend the Abydos Writing Institute (formerly the New Jersey Writing Project in Texas). For three weeks, I was writing Monday through Friday, 8 am – 4 pm, with 11 other teachers. We were instructed to bring a writing utensil, a spiral, and a laptop if we wanted. To begin the first day, Denise, one of the trainers, said, “We are writing. Won’t you join us?” before sitting down and beginning to write.
The twelve of us just stared at her. She kept writing. We looked around, confused. Write about what? I thought. Slowly, we all picked up our pen or pencil and began to write. After the longest ten minutes in my entire life, Denise stood up and asked if anyone would like to share. We did exactly what our students would have done…we just stared at her like she was crazy. Share our writing? No way.
Twelve minutes in and I already had Epiphany #1. Of course my students were reluctant to share their writing! Other people would hear their thoughts, and what if *gasp* they were wrong? I was feeling their pain in that moment. Throughout the three week institute I was put through everything I had been asking my students to do, and (Epiphany #2) it was hard. I had to write, share my writing with others, proofread, and even publish. But every step of the way our trainers were right there. Writing with us. Sharing with us. Struggling with us. Modeling the writing process for us.
The text we used for the institute was the second edition of Acts of Teaching: How to Teach Writing by Joyce Carroll Armstrong and Edward E. Wilson. In the theory section of the book, the authors reference a piece of research from “The New Brain: How the Modern Age is Rewriting Your Mind” by Richard Restak (2003) where he describes how mirror neurons were discovered in monkeys. Basically, when your parents said, “Monkey see, monkey do,” they were right!
The research found that our brains are engaged while watching someone else perform a task, so we then have a model to follow when we engage in that same activity. Armstrong and Wilson explain that “as students watch the teacher…performing an action such as writing, mirror neurons kick in, predisposing students to that activity on a subconscious level…reinforcing our mantra that ‘Telling isn’t teaching’” (214). As soon as I read these words, I had Epiphany #3, which completely changed my teaching style. Teaching writing was my weakness because I wasn’t truly teaching writing; I was telling students what to do, then correcting them when it wasn’t done correctly. I wasn’t modeling that writing is a difficult process. I wasn’t modeling what good writing should look like from beginning to end.
During a training last summer, teacher and author Kelly Gallagher shared his own epiphany on modeling. He explained that he would spend hours at home sweating over a piece to share as a model with students, but all they saw was the polished final copy. He realized that he couldn’t just share the end result with students, he needed to share the entire process.
This year, I didn’t feel that teaching writing was my weakness. I wrote every class period. I put my writing out there so that my students would feel safe to do the same. I had students who “hated” writing ask if they could keep writing. I scolded students for talking only to find out they were sharing their writing. I had students ask to print out extra copies of their papers so they could take them home.
Teaching writing wasn’t a weakness anymore. It was a beautiful struggle that my students and I shared…together.
Thank you Jenn for sharing your epiphanies about writing and teaching writing by modeling for and with your students! I think we are better teachers when we think about what it might be like to be our students and teach with that in mind.
Last week, I plotted some of the people who had commented about joining in on the writing here at Teacher Mentor Texts. It's fun to see where everyone is! If you click on the map, it should take you to a map that you can zoom out and see more. Feel free to add yourself to the map if I missed you!
View TMT Teachers Write! in a larger map
My rules for the TMT Summer Writing Group:
1. We respect each other and the type of writing we do.
2. We only criticize each other constructively.
3. We are positive and encourage each other at all times.
4. We recognize and maintain this as a safe environment.
**I reserve every right to put the smackdown
on anyone who messes with our positive energy.**
on anyone who messes with our positive energy.**
Today, in the comments section:
How did you do this week? Did you meet your weekly goal(s)?
What was the pit of your week? (The hardest part, the not-fun part?)
What was the peak of your week? (The best part, the most-fun part?)
What are you looking forward to and planning for the week ahead?
Thanks for stopping by and have a great week of writing!