This Much I Know is True – Putting Your Beliefs in Writing

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This week I was lucky enough to Skype with Ruth Ayres, who is working with me as a Writing Coach. I feel very confident in my ability to teach reading, but I’m not completely satisfied with my writing program as yet. When Ruth posted that she would be available to work as a Writing Coach, I was thrilled beyond belief to have the opportunity to learn from someone with her knowledge and skills. This year my District adopted new curriculum for both Reading and Writing, and I’ll admit I’m finding the Writing more challenging to work through. I wanted some extra insight and a chance to get feedback from someone who really ‘knows her stuff’.

I’ve been feeling more than a little frustrated with the way things were going in my Writer’s Workshop. I couldn’t quite put it into words, but it just didn’t FEEL right. I contacted Ruth and she listened patiently to my frustration and confusion and in her sweet and thoughtful way said “I think a little list in your notebook called, “This I Know About Teaching Writers…” might unleash some of your beliefs and help you filter through the (new writing) resource.” So I sat down and started writing. WOW. This assignment really did ‘unleash’ my thinking in a way that nothing else could have. Putting my philosophy about teaching writing on paper really made me think about what I do and what I believe to be TRUE. It gave me clarity and direction and helped me pinpoint why I’d been having so much trouble. I think the hardest part about adopting a new curriculum as a veteran teacher, is that we already have some knowledge about what works well for our students and a philosopy that guides the way we have taught that subject. Correlating what we believe with what the new curriculum is asking can be a stressful and sometimes conficting experience.

However, the very act of putting in writing what I believe gave me such a sense of peace. I took a breath and gave myself permission to admit what I know and believe is true for my students, and ultimately I realized I’m just not that far apart from the new curriculum I’m teaching. I may not teach it in ‘exactly’ the same way, but the bottom lines are there.

I will be forever grateful to Ruth for giving me this assignment and I HIGHLY recommend it for every teacher. Putting what you believe about teaching in writing is an experience that will both center you, and help your every day teaching. When you know what’s at the core, the edges are not so blurry.

Have a great week

Annabel

Thank you Ruth for your wisdom and patience. Ruth’s Website

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If you’re interested, here is what I came up with: My Writing Truths

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“Authentic Learning”

I’m tagging on to Ruth Ayers Celebration Writing, although I know it was supposed to be up yesterday!

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We have been working on a unit for Opinion Writing in my classroom over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been feeling more than a little frustrated, wondering if my students would ever ‘get it’. The strong thesis statement backed up by logical reasons, the engaging hook, the neatly formed paragraphs, the sound conclusion – and don’t forget citing evidence from the articles we read! It’s overwhelming what I want these 9 and 10 year olds to do and I admit I was feeling a little disheartened by the task.

But then, during my Daily 5 workshop time, two boys approached me with that ‘look’ on their faces – that look that means “we know we’re not supposed to interrupt you Mrs. Hurlburt, but we have something really important to share”. I can never turn them away when they look at me that way 🙂 With words bubbling over and an enthusiasm 10 year old boys don’t usually like to show when it comes to reading and writing; this is what I was told:

“Mrs. Hurlburt, Ethan and I were just talking about what we thought was better, the PS3 or XBox console.”
– I admit I may have those console names wrong – and at this point I was ready to jump in with – “and what does this have to do with reading???!!” – but I held my breath and I’m glad I did, because this is what came next:

“And then we both said at the same time ‘OPINION WRITING!’ So we both want to write an opinion essay on which one we think is best – is that OK with you?”

Is that OK with me??? Do you know how hard it was not to burst into song/tears/shouts of joy right then and there?! It was one of those moments where I took a deep breath, smiled my biggest smile and said “Boys, I think that’s a great idea” while secretly high-fiving myself all over the room.

This, my friends, is what makes my day/month/year as a teacher. When my students see a way to apply something they have learned in class to their own lives – well isn’t that the ultimate definition of “Authentic Learning”? It truly was a celebratory moment.

Later that week, I did a 4th Grade Feedback Survey with my students (I got this idea from the fabulous Mr. Jones. You can access my version here if you’d like to try it with your class). And here is one of the responses I received to the question “What project, experience or lesson did you most enjoy this year?”

‘I loved the opinion writing it was my favorite I liked it so much I actually started to do one with ethan’

Wow.

We still have a ways to go with our opinion writing. We will have a benchmark test at the end of April. But I will carry those words with me for much longer. I know that at least two of my students discovered that writing has purpose and power. They know they can use their words to convince others, to create change and to make their mark – even if they don’t have the perfect ‘hook’.

Conquering Mountains

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I’ve been reading about the “nerdlution” movement on Twitter and maybe seeing so many people take up the challenge has inspired me to finally take the plunge and start writing “publicly”. I’m still too scared to commit to a daily ritual though – hence the quote above. Conquering our own fears is by far the most difficult part of any challenge.

I stand in my fourth grade classroom daily and tell my students how important it is to write – it doesn’t matter what, it doesn’t matter how much, just WRITE! And yet, I have found it so hard to convince myself that what I want to put down on ‘paper’ is worthwhile. I read blogs, articles and twitter feeds daily and think to myself “there’s no way I could ever be THAT good”. I talk myself out of trying, but in my heart I really want to be a WRITER.

This is my commitment to me. I know I have things to say. I know that what I write can be read and enjoyed by others. I am going to give it a try.

Thank you #nerdlution for finally getting me to at least start the climb…..