Writing Changes You

Writing Changes You

Writing changes people.

It’s the hardest, yet most rewarding subject I teach. I love it.

After journaling one morning, (we used this prompt) a student ran up to me. His grin stretched ear to ear. He said “I feel like a new person after writing this!” I told him that writing changes people. This ten-year-old finally understood that.

I asked him if I could share his journal page. Here’s the text of his entry:

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The Selfishness of Blogging

There's a feeling I've been trying to stuff down lately, but it keeps popping up like a Whack-O-Mole at Chuck E. Cheese. It's been churning in the back of my mind since the spring.

Mondays have been buzzing by at a blistering rate. The last day of school came and went. The dog days of summer disappeared as quickly as they came. The new school year has been in full swing for three weeks now. And that feeling is still there. The feeling of the necessity of writing.

I can't help but write. It's what I do. It's how I think, reflect, and process the world. It's a necessity for me. But, for whatever reason(s), I haven't been blogging.

I haven't been taking enough time for myself lately, and I'd forgotten what a wonderfully selfish thing blogging can be. Don't get me wrong. I like sharing my thoughts, I enjoy the comments, and dig the community. But, it's selfish because it is primarily something I do for myself. Blogging makes me think a little deeper and organize a little clearer. It makes me better. And better is good. I'm looking forward to getting a whole lot better over the next few months.

The Lifeblood of Our Classroom

So much of what my students and I do either stems from our journals or revolves around using them.  It's a seemingly small thing with an enormous impact.  But here's the catch to journaling- it has to be every school day.  And I mean every school day.

My classes and I have finally reached the tipping point with our journals.  It took work.  It didn't start out as everyday.  We did it every day of the week before Christmas break.  We have done it every single day in January.  It hit about this time last year as well.

It's just not the same if we do it almost every day.  It really does have to be every day.  If we only journal four out of five days in the week, it's still only something we sometimes do.  It's 80% of the time.  But journaling everyday turns it into just something we do.  Don't miss that.  It's huge.

Journaling the lifeblood of our classroom.  It's one of those things that must be done everyday to get the most impact.  That's what it takes for journaling to become a habit- daily writing.  That's exactly what I want for my students.  I want writing to be a habit.

It's just something we do.  Everyday.  Without fail.

A New Year's REVolution

My students and I came up with New Year's REVolutions to celebrate the start of 2012.  We started by going through this Prezi I made titled Resolution vs. Revolution.

Most of my 4th graders had heard of resolutions.  They had seen their parents try to lose weight or quit smoking.  If parents only knew half of the things their children say about them at school...  We dicussed how a revolution is different.  It's not just a solution to a problem.  A revolution is a fundamental change in thinking.

We began listing problems, issues, or unsatisfactory things in our lives.  One of these would turn into our goal.  For example, one irritation I have is that I read too many books concurrently.  I get started, but rarely finish.  I'm emabarrased to say, but I rounded up all the books I started, but didn't finish in 2011.  It was close to 30.  Whoops.  My goal is to only read one book at time.

The revolution comes in my change of thinking about this problem.  I'm not just going to solve this problem (resolution), I'm going to change my thinking about it.  This happens by outlining a few process steps.

Next, my classes and I wrote three action steps that we could take to make sure this goal was reached.  These steps are critical.  I told them each step needed to be do-able and start with a verb.  Here are my three:

1. Commit to only reading one book at a time
I promised myself I would keep this up.  I actually modified it a bit to include two books- one novel and one non-fiction.  I figured those are different enough.

2. Make a list of books to read later
This will keep me from panicking that I'll forget a title I want to get.  I'm going to keep this as an Amazon wish list so I can get to it easily from my phone while I'm out.

3.  Write a review on Goodreads when I finish a book
This is a little treat for completing something.  I only get to write a review on my Goodreads page when I finish a book.

So far, so good.  My current novel (that I started in October, by the way. Yikes.) is Catching Fire, and my current non-fiction is Notebook Know-How.

Be sure to check out all my students' revolutions on The Bloggers' Guild.  Wish us well!

What I've Been Writing

I haven't been writing much here lately.  I've been having a blast on my personal blog, 404 Father, writing about what video games mean to me.  I created a Most Memorable Nintendo Games list to keep me focused.  I've been hacking away at it for a few weeks now.  It's been so great.

This list has forced me to write almost daily and publish just about as much.  It's been good for me.  So often, as writers, we don't know what we want to say until we start writing.  Most of these Most Memorable Nintendo Games posts ended up being about so much more than games and much more meaningful.  Especially the top five.  But I never would have found that out if I didn't start writing.

So go write something.  Anything.  All you have to do is start.

*     *     *
And please check out my list if you want to know a little more about ten-year-old me.  I gotta warn you though- it gets a little nerdy and a little nostalgic.

Most Memorable NES Games on 404 Father

[Image courtesy of GameFAQs]

On Losing Ctrl


"Each time I sit down to write I don't know if I can do it. The flow of writing is always a surprise and a challenge. Click the computer on and I am 17 again, wanting to write and not knowing if I can."   -Don Murray

[So, I've kinda been in a blogging slump lately.  I don't really know what the deal is.  I just keep finding excuses not to write.  I haven't been writing in my journal or on 750 Words either.  But I'm going to take the advice that I give all of my young writers- write.  Yes, it is stupidly simplistic.  Yes, it frustrates many of my students.  I still hold by it though.  Write.  Write when you have something to say, write when you have nothing to say.  Write when you can.  And, maybe even more importantly, write when you can't.  Slow claps to Edna Sackson (@whatedsaid) for getting me off my duff and getting my keyboard clicking.]

"Put your hands at your side, and get in that LINE!"

I heard that shouted many times on the episodes of Beyond Scared Straight I've recently been watching on Netflix.  The show is pretty much what I thought it was going to be- plenty of yelling, threats, and scared kids.  Inmates on the show are trying to use fear and intimidation to motivate teens to stay out of prison.  What I didn't expect, was it to remind me so much of school.  Seriously.  There are many things that are eerily similar in both institutions.

This got me thinking about control.  My need for it.  Safety's dependency on it.  People's resentment of it being taken.  It seemed to be one of the biggest concerns at the prisons.  My thoughts, as usual, rounded back to school.

How much control do I have in my classroom?  How much do I need?  What's up for grabs and what's not?  What's up to the students and what's up to me?  Control can be a good thing depending on the ways we get it, and for what purpose we want it.  Learners have to have a sense of control when they learn, don't they?

Quiet In The Halls

I'll admit, I fuss at kids in the hallway.  Not exactly the same way they do in prisons, but we're trying for similar goals.  My school has almost 700 kids.  There have to be some procedures for respectful behavior in the hall.  We quietly walk single-file on the right side of the hall with our hands at our side.  We do it out of respect for the other classrooms.  That's a good kind of control to me.  Eventually the students internalize why we do it, and it is no longer controlling.  Inmates... I'm not so sure.

Order (VS., and /or) Control

I wonder what else I try to control for my students beside hallway walking.  I feel I do need to control some things.  I'm the responsible adult in the room.  It's my responsibility to be in control.  I just need to make sure I'm trying to be in control of the right things.

I've realized many of the things I want to control are for the sake of order.  Order as opposed to chaos.  My room can get chaotic at times, but I never want chaos.  Safety, both physical and emotional, is another area that I feel I must step in and exercise control.  It would be irresponsible to completely leave safety up to nine and ten-year-olds.  This again all goes to the greater purpose of learning.  I don't assume control by coercive or threatening means.  No cloaks.  No daggers.  Just trust.  I feel this is good and acceptable.

Mediums, Methods, and Materials

This is the big area where I have to let go.  I cannot be totally in control of student learning.  If we were in total control, then that would give us total responsibility, thus negating responsibility to the students who are supposed to be doing the learning.

I know I want to keep getting better at this.  I think about how cool it would be to have students constantly choosing their own mediums and methods to learn.  What if I let them pick how they wanted to demonstrate their newly learned knowledge and skills?  That's the kind of control I don't want.  That's the kind of control our students need.

Exactly how much control is too much control?  I have no idea.  But I do know that if it's not a safety or order issue, I'm going to be dialing my control way back this year.  Way back.

Photo credit: joelogon

What I've Been Thinking

Yep.  Still here.  Still teaching.  Still thinking.  Still writing- just not publishing much.  A post from Brian Barry (@Nunavut_Teacher) got me thinking enough to write this post.  I came across a great quote the other day:

Writing has nothing to do with publishing. Nothing. People get totally confused about that. You write because you have to – you write because you can’t not write. The rest is show-business. I can’t state that too strongly. Just write – worry about the rest of it later, if you worry at all. What matters is what happens to you while you’re writing the story, the poem, the play. The rest is show-business.
— Peter S. Beagle

So, yeah.  It's a very busy time of year, but I'm writing and I'm thinking.  I'm thinking about being grateful that I have a job next year.  I'm thinking about gamifying education and motivation.  I'm thinking about how the last day of school is the most important day of the year.  I'm thinking about my own procrastination and reluctance to change as summer break approaches.   I'm thinking about all of the things I didn't do this year that I swore I would back in August.

I'm thinking about what defines success and failure.  I'm thinking about the state test scores that we finally go back.  I'm thinking about the student who cried in confidence when she found out she failed.  I'm thinking about the student who cried when she got a commended performance because she couldn't wait to tell her dad.

I'm thinking about all of this and I'm thinking about how I fit into it.

I'm thinking...

Read Like Writers, Write Like Readers

quotation-marks If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or tools to write.  -Stephen King

I often tell my students to read like writers and write like readers.  It's one of those meta things that makes them think a little more critically about their own literacy.

I've always heard that reading and writing are two sides of the same coin.  It's a weighted coin, though.  They're inextricably linked, to be sure.  But, they’re not necessarily equal in correlation.

I've had many students who love reading and are excellent at it.  These same students may or may not be great writers (at least not yet).

But, great writers are almost always passionate readers.  In my experience, I've never had a talented writer who didn't love reading.  This is one more reason that I strive to create an authentic community of readers in my classroom.

What's your experience?