The Writer’s Voice

I have been thinking more and more lately about giving my second graders an authentic audience for their writing. I try to schedule writing celebrations at the end of each writing unit and we invite families, teachers and administrators, and sometimes a classroom of peers to visit our classroom and celebrate the writing we have accomplished. Students read their writing to guests and to each other.

When we ended our fiction unit this fall one of the pieces we worked on was a scary story. This set of lessons is part of a new writing curriculum we are trying as a school. The lessons start with a few mentor texts which are appropriately scary for 2nd graders. The lessons then moved into some modeling by the teacher of writing a scary story using descriptive language and then move into a guided practice of children writing their own scary stories. The kids were excited to write their own scary stories. During writing time for the next few days it was silent. I sat back and just let the writing happen. This was the first time this year I didn’t have several students appealing to me for help before they even put a pencil to the paper. It was magical.

After a few days I starting conferencing with students who felt like they were ready. And what I discovered was that some of the stories were a little TOO scary. There were things in those stories that were not in my mind appropriate for 2nd graders. But is the writing about my voice or the writer’s voice? A writer writes for an audience and with the writers voice. And I heard voices in those scary stories that I had not heard, voices from some of my most reluctant writers.

As the writer’s celebration approached many of those TOO scary stories were selected by the author’s as the piece they wanted to publish and share. My dilemma, Do I nix the sharing of scary stories at the celebration? Do I limit the audience/invited guests? What message am I sending my young writers who are just beginning to hear their own writing voice?

These kids they have voices that deserve to be heard and I want them to learn that now so that as they move on in their lives they continue to grow strong in that voice and they continue to learn how to make it heard. So though I guided and prompted and modeled a 2nd grade “appropriate” scary story in the end there were writers whose voices were a little scarier then I may have liked. And as a writer and a teacher of writing I chose to let those stories stand on the shoulders of their authors. Authors who were proud of what they had written and wanted to share it with an audience.

And you know what? It was awesome. Because I could hear the voice of those writers, writers whose voices had only been a whisper before. And those writer’s had an audience. It was a delight to see several little boys gathered around as one of our writer’s read his scary story. They were enthralled by a tale of blood and gore, good and evil. The writer was doing exactly what we had been learning to do. He was using his written words to create a picture in the mind of the reader. And most importantly he was experiencing the power of his own words.

Hope

A teacher/writer friend of mine stopped me in the hallway.

“You haven’t been writing she said. Is it because you don’t have time or you don’t know how to say what you want to say?”

“Both.” I replied

She looked at me knowingly.

So I haven’t been writing because I haven’t known how to say what I need to say.

I have some hard kids this year, some kids who don’t seem to care.

It hurts my heart to write that down.

I sit at home and I think about what I can do to get these kids to care. Some nights I resolve to love those hard kids even harder.

Some nights I go home and think that I never want to go back to that classroom again.

I am frustrated, I am impatient and I am tired.

I started today feeling less then 100% and resolved to just baby step it through the day. If I could just stay calm, be present and keep moving forward it would be Ok. About midway through the day I hit a serious slump. As I walked around during writing time I noticed that many of my kids were completely unengaged. I sat down at my work table and tried to regroup. What next? I looked at the kids who were sitting at my work table and noticed almost blank pages. What now?

And one of my little guys asked “Are you sad?” And before I could put on my teacher face I replied “Yes, I am sad.” And then another little guy said “Are you disappointed?” And I replied “Yes, I am disappointed.”

And in that low moment I realized that I was reaching them. They had seen me. They were empathizing. They were connecting. They were seeing value in our work.

So I am holding on to that low moment. Because in that low moment those kids who I thought did not care, they cared. They cared enough to see what I was feeling, to recognize it and to ask. We connected, not in a moment of joy or pride or accomplishment but in a moment of sadness and disappointment. That gives me hope.