Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: I Almost Missed the Writer
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Slice of Life: I Almost Missed the Writer

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I knew I had to have copy of the student’s writing…

            not because it was beautiful

            not because it showed growth

            not to use as a mentor text

as a reminder…

    the writer always comes first.

Last week I was assessing student writing with a group of kindergarten teachers. We were using Calkins’ Pathway for narrative writing to discuss what we noticed about these students as writers. We were not scoring the writing just considering the new crafts they were trying and areas we might teach next to support them.

Even without scoring, I experienced a moment when I almost missed the writer. We came across this piece of writing:

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Gus is very furry. Some dogs are not furry.

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Gus is very fun loving. Some dogs are not loving.

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Gus is very cuddly too. My dog can do lots of stuff.

At first, I noticed it was not exactly a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. Did something happen? Is the writer in the story? Are we in the moment? These questions were running through my mind, but then I listened to the reader within me.

As her reader…

            I love the seesaw quality of her writing

            I love the rhythm of her words

            I love the use of repetition

            I love her word choice

            I love the feeling she left me with

This writer is more than a number, more than one assessment, more than one moment in time.

Am I worried about her as a writer?

Absolutely not.

I am worried I almost missed the beauty of her writing.

Absolutely.

I think exemplars; rubrics and continuums that help us understand what to look for in a student’s writing are extremely helpful. I think these tools help us develop a common language so we can really discuss our students’ writing and work together to plan next steps for them instructionally. It helps us take a step back and see what our students have learned and what they are ripe to learn next.  We need to make sure that it does not narrow our focus and cause us to miss something beautiful because it does not fit the continuum. We can appreciate both what the writer does well and what the writer is ready to learn next.

I want to first and foremost be a reader for the writer and authentically respond to the writing. It is the response, the connection, which will help us teach them and inspire them to be writers.

I had to have it… it is beautiful and, for me as her reader, it has layers of meaning.

   Clare

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for us to share our stories each day in March.  Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts and consider joining this community.

 

 

 

16 Comments
  • Avatar
    Rose
    Posted at 11:41h, 05 March Reply

    I thought the same thing when I read the piece, Clare. I loved the seesaw comparison! Looking at the writer behind the rubric is good advice, indeed. I also liked the way you interspersed your thoughts. Thanks for sharing such thoughtful posts.

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    Jennifer Laffin
    Posted at 12:06h, 05 March Reply

    Your slice is so timely! Just yesterday, I was reading with a group of 1st graders for our Running Start program. I made a conscious decision to only point out the GOOD things each reader was doing. Holy cow — They sat up taller, puffed their chests out and gained so much power in their reading that I couldn’t believe it! (That would have never happened if I simply focused on what they were doing ‘wrong.’) I’m going to really focus on doing this with all of my readers and writers in my 4th grade classroom and see what happens. Great slice, Clare! Thank you!!

  • Avatar
    Anna Cockerille
    Posted at 12:47h, 05 March Reply

    I love this post – such a great reminder to look deeper at each piece of writing, at each writer. I am fascinated by primary writing. This is a fabulous example.

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    Aileen Hower
    Posted at 13:11h, 05 March Reply

    I am so thankful that you have posted this. I have been, of course, talking up the Summer Literacy Institute, your and Tammy’s text, and the important conversations we will have this summer. This embodies everything I am hoping educators take away from our “keeping assessment in perspective” week. Thank you!

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    Mandy Robek
    Posted at 13:11h, 05 March Reply

    I love this reflection and the thought of looking at pieces of writing with the rubric without scoring. However, you noticed so many great things about this writer and in that moment this child needed to craft this writing. Not all writing fits the daily mini lessons – the power of choice and voice. This is a powerful line to me – “We need to make sure that it does not narrow our focus and cause us to miss something beautiful because it does not fit the continuum.” Thanks for sharing.

  • Avatar
    Karen Szymusiak
    Posted at 14:11h, 05 March Reply

    I love your post! Such an important reminder about working with students. It’s so easy for things to get in the way of really seeing the writer, the child. There are so many things that cannot be measured. You found them in this precious piece of writing.

  • Avatar
    Carrie Gelson
    Posted at 14:17h, 05 March Reply

    Hurrah! I LOVE this post. Child first. Everything else second. And that’s how we do good work.

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    Peggy Demchak
    Posted at 15:27h, 05 March Reply

    I do not have a teaching degree. My degree is a BA in English. I am an instructional assistant who has spent much of the last 10 years in a kindergarten classroom. I also do reading intervention. Story is so important. The youngest especially need story to be recognized. Getting ideas down is the important first step. Education today is so focused on college and career, educators are forced to see the data and not the child. Thank you for taking the time to see the child.

  • Avatar
    Terje
    Posted at 17:00h, 05 March Reply

    Reading like a readebr first not as an evaluator gives more joy. When teachers keep this in mind they will find many opportunities to appreciate and celebrate young writers.

  • Avatar
    Fran
    Posted at 18:25h, 05 March Reply

    Clare,
    So VERY important. Regie Routman also talks about using rubrics judiciously and not letting rubrics chop up student writing and make us think only in little bits and pieces. Celebrating all the things a writer CAN DO is so much fun and requires far more conversation than a list of can’t dos!!!

  • Avatar
    Tara
    Posted at 21:10h, 05 March Reply

    An important reminder, Clare – the writer comes first. And, in this case, this child had an innate sense of rhythm and was so intentional structure. Great post.

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    Dalila Eckstein
    Posted at 22:36h, 05 March Reply

    This is so beautiful. Behind the assessments are little people who are sharing from their writer hearts. I loved reading how you stopped to ask yourself about the writer. I think this is the power of being a writer. It provides a kinship with our student writers that can help us pause and take note of the person. Thank you for sharing this reflective slice. I love it.

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    Karen Terlecky
    Posted at 23:40h, 05 March Reply

    First of all, I am struck by the reflective stance you and these teachers were taking to look at children’s writing. It is so powerful, and not just another thing to check off the ‘to do’ list.
    This child does have writing that is quite poetic; not narrative, but poetic in repetition. It makes me wonder how many wonderful moments I have missed through the years as I was focused on the rubric, not the writer.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  • Avatar
    Catherine
    Posted at 01:58h, 06 March Reply

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful writing with us. It’s imperative that we look beyond the rubric to what the writer is reaching toward, then plan a path that can take them there.

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    JulieK
    Posted at 02:42h, 06 March Reply

    Grateful that you shared the joy of a kindergarteners writing,

  • Avatar
    Melanie Meehan
    Posted at 02:45h, 06 March Reply

    What an important step back you took on this piece of writing. It’s a great example to use as a reminder that sometimes we can break free of rubrics, continua, and standards and just love the writing. As much as I try to remember to always just react to the writing, sometimes I get caught up in whether the writing is doing what the standards dictate it should. Thanks for an important reminder.

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