So I was able to get a glimpse into two separate classrooms at “Rydell High”.: one with Miss Lynch, who teaches 10th grade (Honors and Track 2) and 11th grade (Tracks 2), the other with “Frenchy”
who teaches 10th grade (Track 3, and Honors) and 12th grade (Track 2). On Friday, I spent the day in “Frenchy’s” classroom watching how she facilitates sharing and writing exercises. I was able to watch students’ reactions to each other’s writings as they were shared in front of the class.
It’s always a bit daunting no matter how old you are to share your own writings.
I watched as senior, “Henry”, one of the quieter of the class, reluctantly got in the front of the classroom and read aloud a piece handed out by Miss Frenchy. It wasn’t even his own piece, yet he was still so nervous and anxious to get back into his chair. Miss Frenchy, however, knows what she’s doing, just as the authors of Inside Out: Strategies for Teaching Writing point out: “building confidence is our first job” (70). By getting the most shy students in the class up in front of their peers, leading discussion, she is trying to promote an open classroom environment, one where everyone’s writings can be shared and go judgement-free.
In her 10th grade classes, she had students volunteer to read aloud their assignment due that day. The assignment was: Imagine yourself in twenty years. Who is around you, what are you doing, what is your life like? Write about it.
There were students who got up and shared that they were going to be a lawyer with a family, one girl wrote that she would be hopeful to have Miss Frenchy in her life in twenty years (Frenchy was of course touched to tears by that); another girl wrote about how she’s never seen herself getting married, yet she had a son, was a single working mom, and she did her best to make ends meet (and her creativity–she began the piece in media res and finished it right where she began–was AMAZING). Some students shared about just how they had no idea what their lives would be in twenty years, but they wrote about what they aspired it to be. These students are amazing.
I was able to run a warm-up writing activity, and this is where the important part of this blog post comes. In Chapter 4 of Inside Out, the authors write about different writing activities to do in the classroom to open up the community, and get everyone comfortable. They, of course, touch on fluency, and how important it is to establish a routine and ritual in the classroom, so that students know “I walk in the room, I grab my portfolio from the shelves, and I open the binder up to a blank piece of paper, ready for the warm-up writing.” This exact routine is how Frenchy has her class structured (it’s still early in the year for them, though, so reminders are needed every now and again). As part of another assignment from another education course, I had to interview students. After telling Frenchy about my interview questions, she asked if I wanted to use one for the warm-up in the next period. Of course I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity! My warm-up question was:
Tell me about your dream school. What does it look like? Sound like? Smell like(!)? What are your peers like? What about the teachers?
After the five minute writing was over, I asked for volunteers to share what they wrote about. After a little coaxing from Frenchy, reminding them of class participation grades, a dozen hands rose. As I pointed to each student, they, unprompted, rose out of their desks to “Stand and deliver“. The piece that stood out to me most of all was delivered by a very adamant student who focused on supplies needed in his school. (Let’s call him Jimmy.)
Jimmy’s ideal school was one where no student had to carry around heavy text books, notebooks, and pens and pencils. Jimmy’s ideal school was one where every student was issued a laptop, or better yet,
an iPad/tablet where all of the required books and readings were already downloaded; where instead of having to write by hand which is exhausting and tedious they could type everything out and classes could be a lot shorter. No one would have to worry about their device getting stolen because everyone would have one. And on top of that, everyone would have to check out their device every day so the school could keep track of it.
Though Jimmy’s idea would be quite convenient, to say the least, it’s so sad to me that students no longer wish the write out the things they’re thinking, but need to type them. With the increased rate with which technology is advancing, the internet is expanding, and the digital world is becoming more and more normal, it could be easy to think that writers’ fluency has increased right along with it. I have overheard students whine and moan about taking out a piece of paper to brain-dump for five minutes because they “can’t write as quickly as they think and they lose their thoughts more quickly.” This is a common sentiment with many writers!
Even the authors of our text books acknowledge that apparent “quasi-writing”s that are done daily by teens are actually writings, and therefore they help to increase fluency.
Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, then, because I really enjoy writing down on a piece of paper. And what happens if your iPad or laptop breaks one day? You need to know how to write, not matter what you’re writing, with a pen and paper. Either method increases students’ fluency, allows them to share out their thoughts and feelings in a comfortable space, and really allows for creative expression. I know as I was going through middle and high school, the iPhone wasn’t even a thing yet, there was no such thing as unlimited texting, and we passed notes in class
instead of sending a text message under the desk. The best part about writing notes to each other: you got to play with your own handwriting.
I think that’s so much more fun than using WordArt and fonts made up by the software companies. But maybe, again, that’s just me.
Also, by the way…the SATs, ACTs, and other standardized tests taken in an academic life requires the test-taker to copy verbatim a paragraph written in script.