Small Victories

Before I started teaching summer school this year, I had a vision of my class coming together as this perfect community of writers sent by angels. We would be sharing and celebrating our writing, tears streaming down our faces as we connected at the deepest of spiritual levels. Okay…maybe my fantasies didn’t go quite so far, but I really had imagined a nearly-spiritual experience.

Unfortunately, my reality hasn’t yet shaped up to be quite what I imagined.

Today, my students finished writing their narratives, so I reserved the last 50 minutes of class for us to have a writing celebration. When I told the students at the beginning of this process that they would need to share some of their writing with the class (because we are a community of writers, I explained), you’d thought I’d asked them to drown kittens in the American River. They were aghast. Share their writing??? “Mrs. Kukral,” they said, “you’re crazy.”

I have to admit…I was a little deflated at their less-than-enthusiastic response, but it certainly wasn’t altogether unexpected. After all, sharing our writing with anyone but the teacher simply hasn’t been a norm in our schools, especially our high schools (though that is thankfully changing).

I continued to promise that it would be okay, but I also assured them that it was an expectation. One student said to me, “What if I refuse?” I explained that I wouldn’t cut his arm off or anything, but I did expect for him to choose something from his narrative to share. Refusing just wasn’t an option. I didn’t threaten to take away points. I didn’t threaten to fail him. I didn’t threaten to send him to the office. I just said, “I hope and expect that you will do it. That’s all.” He scowled at me in the endearing way that teenage boys do (I’m actually serious here), we moved on, and didn’t say another word about it.

Of course, this interaction made me think about the Common Core (these days, even a gusty wind will have that effect on me). One feature that I so appreciate about the writing standards is that there is an expectation that students publish their work. Granted, the specific standard (6) says that this should be done via technology in grades 9-10, but we need to start somewhere.

My students’ reactions made me realize just how uncomfortable it is for them to share their writing with anyone, much less the whole world through the Internet. It brought back my memories of last summer when, as a fellow in the Area 3 Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute, I had to share my writing with my colleagues. I’m relatively certain I had a couple of anxiety attacks over that too.

And if students are terrified and uncomfortable with sharing even a small segment of their writing with a small group of classmates, then how will they adjust to sharing their writing with everyone who has Internet access? Perhaps it will be easier. Maybe there’s something to be said for not being able to actually see your audience while you’re sharing your work. However, I can imagine that, for some students, this type of publicity will send them over the edge.

This makes me realize that, as with anything, we must create communities where it is safe to be in such a vulnerable position and scaffold this experience for our students. Our students shouldn’t be appalled–or really even surprised–when we expect them to share their writing with others. That’s what writing is about.

The good news, though, is that, today, each one of my students shared at least a small part of their narrative. One of my students shared his entire story, and when he was done, his friend spontaneously shared his own version of the same tale.

And the kid who asked me what I would do if he refused to share?

He was the first one to volunteer.

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3 thoughts on “Small Victories

  1. Awesome! I wonder where we develop the fear of sharing our writing? My nephews (3 and 6) want to share everything they do. At some point in our educational careers (probably when that damn red pen appears) we seem to develop an amazing fear and allow the “Watcher” to take over. I wonder why.

    Good for you setting the norm in a positive, constructive manner. Hopefully, they will be able to share writing again before they leave your class.

    • Joe, you know, that’s a good question. I think it definitely has to do with the idea of always being “corrected” when writing, and I think part of it is being really self-conscious, especially in the teen years. Of course being self-conscious AND being afraid of being “corrected”–especially publicly–is a double-whammy, I think. I know what you mean about your nephews. Morgan is the same way. She ALWAYS wants to share her writing or her artwork or whatever else she’s working on. She has no fear.

      I will be having them share more. I’m hoping that next time it will be more comfortable for them. We’ve certainly gotten over the first time jitters! I only hope for them that they continue to have opportunities to make their voices public.

  2. First of all, I really enjoyed the fact that when your student asked, “What is I refuse to do it?,” that you didn’t threaten him. In fact, I believe because of your response he was actually motivated to share. Empty threats never seem to get the same effect. I also can relate to the fear of sharing my own writing. I am currently enrolled in a writing project and am encouraged to share my writing. It’s scary to open up and share your thoughts and feelings with others. I can better understand my own students and how they feel about sharing theirs. It is very important, as you said, to create that community feeling in your classroom so that students feel comfortable sharing and aren’t so worried about what others may think. I’m hoping that in my own classroom, the more we share the more comfortable they will be. I certainly don’t want to force them to, but instead I’ll remember your approach to the expectation: “I hope and expect that you will do it. That’s all.”

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