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The Reason for Writing Instruction: A Teacher's Reflection

written by: Laurie Patsalides • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 1/17/2012

Allowing children to write about their personal experiences not only validates their topic choices, but also their life experiences. Here you will find one teacher's personal journey from a teacher to a writer through the Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing Project.

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    My Journey as a Writer

    As teachers, we expect students to write, write and write, yet rarely do we let them view a piece of our world through our writing. The Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop teaches students to write through teacher modeling.

    Although I have always wanted to "be a writer", I never believed that I was one, until I read Lucy's books and utilized the program. A writer was someone who wrote books, articles, or advertisements. Under her instruction, I learned that "writers write for many purposes" (a unit of study in the curriculum) and ultimately we are all writers, from the preschool child to the grown adult. In the first few training sessions my thoughts were, "I don't write like that as an adult, how can I teach it to my students?" Through schooling we can sometimes become stifled in our creativity when directed to write on demand, only to have our work critiqued to the point of shattering our dreams of ever becoming a writer. I learned from the project to apply what I was teaching the children to do, which is to write about significant life experiences and then use the writing process. Thus, I began to evolve from a teacher into an author as well.

    Writing About Real Life Experience

    As teachers, we ought to teach children to write naturally about their own life experiences. Let me provide an example of a significant life moment that happened today... significant life moments are there every day, but do we take notice? More importantly, when they occur how do we describe them?

    This evening after work my husband walked through the back door with a haircut, a vision of short, stubbly, hairs that my eleven-month-old daughter has never witnessed before on his head. He left this morning as he does every day, with a head of thick, wavy hair. Waiting in anticipation for him to walk through the door as she always does, when she saw him, she froze, stared, and gazed deeply into his eyes as if a distrusted stranger. "It's me, he cried... your daddy!." Hesitantly, half of a smile formed on her face, as if she questioned, "Is it really you, daddy? How did that happen to you?" Slowly she looked toward me and smiled for reassurance. "It's daddy," I smiled. "It's him.", I spoke reassuringly. She reached for him with little arms. Slowly and softly she touched his head in disbelief, perplexed by what she felt and saw. Then, she laughed.*

    So what is significant about this life moment? It was a first for her and one I will never forget. Without a camera in my hand to capture the moment, I just re-created it for her in words, painting a picture if you will, of how I saw it happen. When the days of her youth are long over, writing about the first time she saw her daddy's buzz cut will have an impact on her.

    The point being, when we can model how to write, through our own experiences and others (i.e. through books/genre), we can teach writing and instill into students that they are writers. We can as teachers cause students to dislike writing by forcing it, instead of finding joy and purpose in writing. In her book The Art of Teaching Writing, Lucy says, "When we help children know that their lives do matter, we are teaching writing" (Calkins, 1994, p.16). Stories happen all day long, if we take notice.

    Used in the classroom this snippet of my life would foster many teaching points, such as, sentence structure, description, setting, adding feeling into your piece, imagery, developing an idea, draft and revision and so on. It can evolve into a story or a poem. Through this one example, students would have just gotten to know their teacher a little better, seeing her more than a teacher, but also as a mom. There are many reasons to teach writing, to reform, change, inform, teach, and to show what is inside of hearts and lives through the written word.

    *Please note, if this were an actual classroom piece, I would have the students share in the writing process and watch it evolve, instead of editing and revising as I have done for you here.

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    Calkins, Lucy. 1994. The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.