I began this year with a goal—to try and get my students to love writing as much as they do reading. I think I have always done a decent job with reading, you see. Writing? It really varied from year to year. And so, I have worked hard at it. We’ve written daily, had lots of discussion around what we wrote, focused quite a bit on free choice, and I’ve tried hard to make sure they see the purpose of writing.
One area I have emphasized over and over is that their writing is for them. Sure, they might need to turn something in from time to time. Sometimes we even will do a certain type of writing and that will be graded, but their notebooks are theirs. I don’t see them most of the time. We’ve talked about what type of writing can go in there, how sketching is encouraged, etc. Something I addressed again and again is that writing can help us heal.
As much as I would love my fifth graders to have wonderful and carefree lives with no stress, pain, or hurt, I know that simply isn’t true. So we have talked about how when we are hurting, we can write about it. We can write about it simply, just write what is on our minds. We can use our feelings to inspire our writing, or maybe even a poem.
Over the years I have seen many poems about divorce, loss of a pet, friendship troubles. There has been writing about fear—students losing their homes, losing a grandparent, or the fear of not measuring up. I never ask to read this writing, of course. Writing is personal and it belongs to the writer unless they are ready and willing to share it.
Today we began class as we often do, with a quick write. For the month of December we’ve been sharing a haiku a day from the picture book Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka. After reading today’s haiku, I also shared one from my friend, Mary Lee. She had written one entitled Grief.
I read it to my students and paused. Looking at their fabulous faces, I posed a variety of questions:
Why would Mary Lee write about this?
What makes a haiku a perfect form for this writing?
Do you ever turn to poetry versus prose to express strong emotions?
After asking my students to think about these questions—and each class also had their own conversation beyond those—we then turned to our notebooks to write for two minutes. Just two minutes to capture our thinking at the time.
I glanced around the room as each class wrote. I watched some students bopping their heads, fingers splayed out as they counted syllables. I saw some serious faces as students were curled around their notebooks, pencils clutched tightly in their hands. And I saw some students glance at me, give a shy smile or a shrug, and turn back to their notebook.
I hope with everything in me that they get the habit of writing instilled in them during our year together. I know that as they move forward in life that the simple act of writing your thoughts and feelings can be a huge blessing. The act of rereading your writing allows you to reflect and grow as you go forth. Watching my young writers today I was filled with hope. Right now, they seem to truly get it. That simple fact makes me smile. With that, I picked up my pen and joined them. Deep breaths, just write.