I love reading about the writing that is going on in some schools today. I find it hard to imagine the stories my daughter tells me her preschool kids “write” but then I shouldn’t. My own kids told me a lot of stories. Don’t ask me if they were true or not. I prefer to think they were.
Writing became an issue when I was teaching in this town in the early 80’s. Various teaching pros would give lectures or classes and I attended them all. I don’t know if I ever did it the way you were supposed to, but I did have kids writing.
I spent one fall reading fairy tales to a 3rd grade class at story time. I was surprised the kids had not heard any of the classics I had read to my own children. By winter, I found that the students were writing their own fairy tales. Princesses and knights, ogres and dragons were favorites. Then some one published books telling the Red Riding Hood story from the point of view of the wolf and other such mixed up tales. So my students began to do the same, introducing the dragon to the wolf or whatever combination pleased them. Writing was happening. I was thrilled.
I continued the writing time when I began teaching at a school in Florida. These kids were from a different demographic and had heard the fairy tales – and they knew about Star Wars and space exploration. Writing took on a different theme but it was writing. I had a class one year who begged to take their clip boards out to recess. They were in the middle of a tale.
I told the high school teacher about our writing and she suggested we come and share with her students. We arrived at their room, clip boards in hand. These students wrote on thin lined note-book paper, none of that wide ruled stuff and they wrote volumes. The high school kids were slouched in their chairs with the look of “I guess we have to tolerate this… it’s better than…. whatever was planned.”
My student, Justin, sat on the teacher’s desk, his short legs going back and forth through the center hole. Clip board in hand, he rifled through several pages. “Read the best part,” said a classmate. He found the place and began to read. Every high school student sat up and listened, amazed at the writing. `
I will admit that this was one of those rare classes for whom I provided a room and they learned. If the high school student looked at the writing they would have found mistakes, lots of them. I did not correct or alter the writing. Mistakes were found when the students read their stories in pairs in the class room. “Oops,” they would pause in the reading, “I suppose I need a period there.” Or a friend would ask what something meant, and words would be scribbled around the writing. Good spellers would assist in fixing spelling mistakes. Bad spellers might have learned to spell a new word. Words were not lacking. The oral vocabulary was way beyond the reading or writing vocabulary.
This didn’t happen in September. It happened by the end of the year. We began by small sharing in the class. Then, when confidence came, with a friend, and sometimes with the whole class. Good stories were fixed up to make them readable to a parent. I never put my pencil on their paper without their permission and when I did, it was not a red pencil or ball point pen. It was their work and we all treasured it.
One former student of mine did a presentation at a middle school science fair and I learned later that when a teacher talked to him about his writing and how well it was done, he smiled and said, “ Oh I learned how to do that in third grade”. That’s an honor I will never forget.