Thursday, March 13, 2014

Writing beside them

13 of 31 at Two Writing Teachers!
Last week at this time, I had just spent an afternoon watching my students shine as they taught our whole school community about their countries. Now, a week later, I'm still dazzled when I remember their pride and excitement.

Even though I shared some of their displays, you didn't get to see the best part of their projects -- the powerful introductions my intermediate and advanced students wrote to give their visitors a personal sense of what they love about their countries.  From the beginning, I emphasized that while other students in our school were making displays about their family heritage, my students' personal experience would make their projects uniquely powerful.

After our initial brainstorming, I wrote a sample introduction in front of my students, talking through my craft decisions, revising, and using a thesaurus as I went. As the day went on, I just kept revising and adding more, so my afternoon class could see my process too. (The next day, I showed the changes to my first class.)

When most people think about Spain, they think about flamenco, soccer, and bullfighting. But when I think about Spain, I think about strolling through a maze of winding streets. I think of orange tile roofs and tan stone buildings filled with hundreds of years of memories.  I think of bright afternoons spent lingering in a lush park, reading and watching old men play Bocce. 

Along the streets, dried ham hocks hang in the windows of every bar and restaurant, beckoning visitors to enjoy some tasty tapas. My mouth waters as I remember crisp golden churros dunked in melted chocolate so thick and rich it's almost solid. I long for another sip of luscious Fanta Naranja, made with real orange juice and so much creamier than the American version... 

I'd often showed my students my writing, brainstormed in front of them, and jotted a few quick lines, but I'd never really written so deeply in front of them before. After reading Penny Kittle's Write Beside Them this fall, I realized how important it was for students to see the whole process -- how and why I revise as I write, my thinking as I make word choice and craft decisions, and how I continue revising after stepping away from a piece.

It was incredible. Their eyes shone with possibilities as they watched with rapt attention. They "ooh"ed and "ahh"ed whenever I made a decision that created a powerful line. They nodded their heads knowingly as I reminisced about how Spain just feels so much different than America... so charming, so peaceful, so steeped in history. As I wrestled with ideas in front of them, we were truly a community of writers... unique writers whose hearts hold memories of other lands and other ways of life.

At the end of the day, a student from 3rd period called me over. I thought he needed help, but he looked into my eyes and said "Mrs. M, what you wrote this morning... it made me feel like home." The smile that stretched across his face will live in my heart forever, reminding me to keep writing beside them. 


  1. Beautiful post Jennifer! I truly believe that writing in front and with our students is a practice that all teachers should experience often in their classrooms. Nothing says "I'm a writer like you...i'm also trying like you..." like writing in front of your class. Bravo! Bravo! And the connections you make with your students...priceless!

  2. This seems important this time for more than one reason, Jennifer. Not only did you offer so much learning about writing, but also showed very beautifully the love for something different from what you all are living here, which is what your students possibly needed more than the writing expertise. But the blend of both made for lovely teaching!


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