I apologize for my recent blogging absence- I have been reading. There are times, as a teacher, when reading becomes all-consuming, and for me this month has been filled with reading my students’ work (aka, marking!) I actually love this kind of reading. It starts as a short conversation when I ask my students to show me what they know, then the floodgates open, and the writing starts piling up on my desk. There are a lot of kids who are just desperate to be heard. They need a place to voice their ideas, without interruption, and in writing for school, on any topic, they get an audience. And yet, some students still feel so threatened by writing. It’s a shame we have to confine most writing assignments to being something “for marks.” The limits that are imposed by getting the right answer or trying to sound knowledgeable are the hardest to break. The challenge I pose to my students in their writing is to tell me what they think, not what they have read. Reading, and adding in the ideas of others can come later, but if I can convince my students that their ideas are valid, and that I want to hear them, then, that is when I start to see growth in their writing.
One of the most freeing experiences in my own writing happened in my first graduate course, when we were given permission to write our papers in the first person. In fact, we were told that personal authoethnographical writing had more validity than standard, objective research. This concept was incredibly difficult for me to accept. I had learned, and I had been teaching for years, that an author’s opinion was not valid information for any credible journal. Apprehensively, I tested the waters of writing in the first person, and I found that the depth of my own thinking expanded, as I read other authors, reflected upon their ideas, and made connections to my own world. Now, I’m completely sold on the value of writing as thinking, using the personal perspective.
I use this approach in teaching my students to think about the material they read, and I’m starting to see much more thoughtful writing coming from them. I have 14 and 15 year-olds asking important questions, questions that make me think too. So , I have no complaints about the number of hours I have spent reading my students’ writing this month. This time, for me, is the culmination of a year of learning, and it’s probably the greatest reward I can have for the work I have done.