In that moment, I made him my personal project. Across town, this red-haired, freckle smitten, soon-to-be fifth grader was also hoping to be challenged. He secretly longed to be a confident writer but was absolutely not going to say so. Doesn't his voice just ring out in that response?
After some fun, first day games, I asked the kids to write down their hopes and dreams for the week. What did they most want to accomplish? Surprisingly, one of Jack's goals was "to have a better attitude toward writing." The door was open! During writing choice, he started a piece about the first goal he scored in lacrosse, his current passion. A classmate of his, Jenny, shared his trapezoid table, and the two set to work between light conversation. Partway through his first paragraph he came and asked for help with the /h/ sound in 'behind', and my empathy grew. Something so simple for my first graders proved challenging for this kid who did his primary learning in Spanish. 'J' or 'H'? No wonder writing was as pleasant as picking snails out of a manure pile. Instead of just giving him the answer (and stopping Jenny before she gave it away) I helped him link his knowledge to other words to find the sound. With less reservation he asked, "How do you spell took?" I replied, "How do you spell book?" Instant connection.
The next day his mom emailed me to say thanks. Whatever I was doing was working because she found Jack in his room later that afternoon writing in a journal. A first! It brought tears to my eyes to read her kind words. Throughout the week, Jack persevered with his lacrosse project. One day he even stayed in during break time to work (of course there really was "nothing to do outside"), and I promised not to tell. On the last day, he sat with me while we read his piece aloud for editing--adding commas, tightening up run-on sentences, removing unneeded details--the nitty gritty that makes writing tedious. But he stuck with it and had to be coerced into stopping. He wanted to make his piece the best that it could be because it was his story. Working in a high expectation, low-pressure environment allowed him to make mistakes, ask for help, and go for it! His rewards were seeing his words fill up those pages and hearing his story come to life as he read it aloud for the group.
I had the pleasure of watching this happen sixteen times, each in its own way. Some kids were already passionate writers when they began, and some still had stage fright when it came time to share, yet by the end of the week they had become a truly supportive community of writers.
Tomorrow--Part 3, What THEY Taught ME
|Note: 'squak' = squeak and 'whosh' = whoosh! (after our morning nature walk)|