Slice of Life hosted by Two Writing Teachers makes Tuesdays wonderful. If you’d like to join in the slicing, check out this link.
The very nature of goal setting is to challenge ourselves, to reach for more, to measure our progress, to prove or affirm our place, to keep up, to be acknowledged or some combination of all of the above. Certain people are goal-oriented; they are driven by the need to succeed. Certain types of activities are based on achieving goals: think sales or sports.
This is all fine and dandy, but it makes me wonder about those times when we don’t succeed and label it failure. It seems so final.
Nerdlution, part 1 had many people saying they had failed. This tweet from Franki Sibberson made me think: “I wonder what our #nerdlutions failures mean in terms of our expectations of students and their goals?” Hmmm… I wonder too.
There are some students in my class that succeed in traditional school ways. But there are some that don’t. For various reasons they don’t fit into the box we call school. They are bright kids and can succeed, but not in the school way. In organization, writing, reading, math — certain students hit walls. Success based on standard measures doesn’t happen for them, yet. They know it and feel bad about it. They feel bad about themselves because they fail to succeed. It isn’t a life sentence, just school. So how can we make the box that means success a little bigger?
Last week we drafted our memoirs.
Forty minutes had passed. One student hunkers over his paper. I walk over. He has written four lines. His piece is all about how he hates writing.
“How are you doing?” I ask.
“This is so hard.” His writing tells me more. Writing was easy in first grade, but now it is so hard because there is so much more to pay attention to. Really something worth pursuing with him, but not now. Poor kid’s in a panic.
While he has only written a few lines, what he has done is beautiful. Ironic, I think. This child who hates to write has a gift for it. He knows how to put words together. But at the same time, he feels he has failed. In mis mind he hasn’t written enough.
He says, “I can’t do this, I don’t know what else to say.”
I tell him I know the feeling. I tell him his style reminds me of so many memoir texts that start out, “When I was…” and then continue with a string of “when I was…” moving toward the present.
I ask him if he remembers writing in second grade, or third or fourth? How was it then?
His eyes perk up, “I remember second grade. It was ok then. Things got much more difficult in fourth grade.”
“Ok,” I say, “Start in second grade, then work your way forward, grade by grade. See if that can get you a little more and perhaps you could figure out something along the way.”
He sits back down, leans over his work, and writes. Ten minutes pass. Four more lines written. He seems better with this product, and better with himself.
As we walk to recess, I tell him that he has grit.
“That’s when you keep working, even when it’s hard. Extremely hard. When you do this you have grit. You don’t give up.”
“Oh, sort of like perseverance?”
“But doesn’t it sound cooler – grit?”
“Yeah, kind of like getting messy in the dirt,” he says.
“Exactly,” I say. “You have a way with words.”
And then he runs off to recess.
While I want him to love to write, this year might just be about making writing a little less painful. The real question in in my mind is how he feels about himself and his abilities.
He is being asked to do a school thing defined by a unit of study. There are other opportunities to write. But this is how he defines writing. Let’s face it, this is how we have defined it. After all, it’s called Writer’s Workshop. The process of writing overwhelms him. There is just too much to remember, to organize and then a deadline on top of it makes it even more disturbing. Bottom line, this type of work makes him feel like a failure.
He doesn’t fit into this particular writing box, and because of this he hates writing. Regardless of what the Common Core says, for the sake of our students, writing needs to be seen as something we do everywhere. Our definition of writing and what we present as writing opportunities needs to expand dramatically. The box needs to get bigger, making room for students to find a writing space that fits and equals success.