Sunday, March 11, 2018
SLICE #11- What's it for?
On Friday, I was reminded twice about why I care about helping kids become good writers. First I was in a fifth grade classroom. The kids were writing persuasive letters to our principal, Mr. M. The teacher had modeled with a topic she and I brainstormed the day before, then it was the students' turn. Each student chose a topic. I wandered the room, conferring with kids. Students had written about lots of different things. D earnestly told me about how Mr. M needed to buy locked cabinets for the art room, and then new supplies to stock the cupboards, because too many kids were stealing paints, and he couldn't do the projects he wanted to do because he needed colors that weren't there any more. M wants the school to add an Advanced Technology Class because he wants to learn to code. J wants us to reseed our soccer field because there are too many stickers. Not only do the balls get punctured, but the kids get stickers in their hands. I was struck, as I read their writing, by the earnestness in their voices, and by the quality of the writing. These clearly were letters that mattered to the fifth graders.
Later that afternoon, I watched a teacher candidate do a lesson on persuasive writing. He first showed "Take a Knee," a video from Kwame Alexander's website, then asked kids to react, first in writing, and then by talking. The kids were clearly interested in the topic and responded with a much higher level of engagement than usually seen 30 minutes before dismissal on Friday afternoon. The passion of X, however, was particularly impressive. X said something to the effect of, "We learn about Rosa Parks, who sat down on the bus for us, and we learn about Martin Luther King, but if we don't do our part, what difference does it make?" She went on for two or three minutes, much more eloquently than I am doing here. When she was done, her classmates responded with spontaneous applause.
I can't stop thinking about those two situations this weekend. Kids need to be able to write persuasively. They need to understand the structure and mechanics of this kind of writing. We are doing that for our students.
What we are not doing, I think, is allowing kids to develop and exercise their voices. We are not allowing kids to write about topics they care about. We are not helping kids develop their own strong voices and their own opinions. We are not helping kids to develop into people who use their voices to be strong and responsible world citizens.
And that makes me really, really sad. Because isn't that what persuasive writing is for?