Posts Tagged ‘writing’

It was the bed head.

I don’t always feel like I am doing this the right way.

I have the big boxed sets of Lucy Calkins reading and writing lessons, but I haven’t actually been able to make sense of them yet.

Our school is a “Teacher’s College” pilot school, or lab school, or something. I’ve watched the TC lady teach two “mini lessons” but I still don’t know what exactly it is that I’m supposed to teach them.

I have my big binder of rubrics, but I don’t use them very effectively. Or very often.  Truthfully? I’m still not sure what is means by “The student develops character, plot and setting through out the story, especially at the heart of the story.”


“Heart of the story”?

Ah…..they’re ten.


I mean, I sort of feel like I know how to help kids develop a sense of themselves as writers. I feel like I know how to help them think about the plot and all that.  But…..see……I look at them, and I see little ones. Kids.  Wicked young kids.  I don’t expect them to produce more nuance in their writing that I can manage in mine.

So last week, when my “evaluator/administrator” popped into my classroom for the first time in ten weeks, my heart sank.  We were in the middle of “writers’s workshop”, where kids were working on various pieces of writing, depending on what they had already completed.

It didn’t fit the kit.


I pretended to be calm, but I hated watching that man talk to my kids, asking them about their work.  I hated watching him take notes on his stupid iPad.

See, the problem is that when your “evaluator” doesn’t like you, its kind of depressing to know that he is popping in at a time when you have already set everything up, and have already done your lesson, and the kids have already gone on to work independently.  You know his view will be sort of skewed. He won’t get it.

How could he?

He hasn’t been here in WEEKS. Now he expects to evaluate my teaching in ten minutes.

I wasn’t feeling very happy or very confident when he asked me to meet with him the next day to go over his observations.


So stupid.

He had talked to two of my students, and had a lot of concerns about their writing skills.


One of these boys goes to the Learning Center 7 times a week to address his learning disability in writing and math.  The other sees the ELA specialist twice a week because of his low reading/writing scores.  My boss didn’t bother to check in with the kids who have above grade level kills, of course. He only checked with my strugglers.


So the day after I had my “evaluation/observation” meeting, I sat down with my struggling writers.  I sighed, feeling defeated because I had obviously failed these kids.

The first little guy sat beside me, chewing his lip as we looked at his “Mystery Story”.
“OK,” I began, “how are you feeling about your story?”    He shrugged.  I turned my eyes to his computer screen and began to read.

Wow!  Punctuation, capitals, dialogue marked by quotation marks.  I read about the crime in his story, saw how he described his detective and his criminal.  I thought about the first piece of writing he did for me in September. The one with no punctuation, no breaks in paragraphs and no actual logic to make it understandable.

I was thrilled with his progress!  Wow!    I thought it was probably the work of the learning center, but I didn’t care. Good boy!  Good work!

And I kept going. I reviewed story after story, comparing progress from September in one child after another. And I saw improved syntax, improved mechanics, improved story line, improved word choice.

I wasn’t sure what to think, but it certainly seemed to me that these kids were learning to write, in spite of my inability to figure out the boxed kits.

Finally, I called up a sweet little boy who is one of my favorites. He is gentle, funny, smart but not a scholar. He is good at math, but makes those tiny mistakes. He reads a lot, but doesn’t always think hard about the themes or messages of the books. As a writer, he is what we call “a minimalist”.  Why use a complete sentence when one word will do?  His writing thus far had lacked organization, clarity, sequence. It was rudimentary at best.

I called up his story, with a little sigh.  And began to read.  And my mouth fell open.

“No I won’t!”             

“Why won’t you, we could strike it rich?”

“I already told you, we’d get caught.”

“We won’t get caught.”

“You are planning to kidnap Liam Smeel, lead singer of ‘The Kings’ right before his performance. Do you think you’re not going to get busted?”

“Are you questioning my magnificent plans?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I am. If you think I’m going to help you with your stupid plan, I’m not. Count me out.”

What???  My little guy had written this introduction to his mystery? Seriously?   I read on, following the events of the story, recognizing the “red herring”, wondering myself who did it. I got to the end, the logical, interesting, funny conclusion to the 5 page mystery story.  I looked at my little student, and I was speechless.

“I….wow…..I…..”  I took a deep breath. “Honey, this is fantastic!  Your introduction is amazing!”

He looked up at me with his gentle sky-blue eyes.  He was twisting his fingers with nerves.

“What do you think of this?”, I asked him, curious to see if he was aware of just how far he’d come in these few months.

He shrugged, his thin shoulders looking fragile as birds’ wings in his blue T shirt.  I wasn’t sure what to say to him.  I looked at his face, his elfin features and nervous smile.  I looked at his head, so close to my shoulder as we both peered at the computer screen.

It was his head that got me.  The swirls and tufts of little boy bed head that formed the delicate halo around his face. My eyes filled with tears as I realized just how young, and how tender, and how fragile he is.  I put my arm around him, at a loss for words. I gave him a gentle hug, my eyes still resting on the golden crown of his head.

“I’m so incredibly proud of all of you guys today!”, I said to my class as I struggled to control my voice.  They looked up in some surprise as they did their everyday work.

“You are my heroes”.  My voice was a little bit thick, so I took a drink of water.  I checked off the boxes in the rubric, and got ready to meet with the next little tiny literary hero.


Judging and being judged.

So I started thinking, as I reviewed the new descriptive writing rubric that I’d created to meet my mandated professional goal. I looked at the rubric. It was very detailed and very specific.  I have been told that kids need to see very clear guidelines so that they can judge for themselves whether their best efforts have earned a 1, 2, 3 or 4 in organization, word choice, detail and editing.  I was picturing my ten year old students, especially the ones who keep telling me how much they hate to write.  I started imagining myself in their shoes, knowing that every effort I made would be judged in minute detail, first by themselves, and then by me.

I thought about the Science Notebook Rubric that we use, and the Scientific Inquiry Rubric.  I imagined myself as a ten year old, trying to come up with a “focus question” and some “objective data” as I wondered what would happen if I put a bug in a tank with a frog.

That sort of got me thinking about the math open response rubrics.  And the history research paper rubrics.

And, Heaven help me, the “narrative writing rubric” that is in place in my classroom.

I tried to picture myself sitting down to write a story. Or a blog post.  I imagined my excitement as I thought about my wonderful new idea.  I pictured the little zing of adrenaline that I always get when I start to write.  I can just see myself, smiling and nodding as my fingers fly over the keys and one idea slips into the next.

Then I pictured myself being doused in ice cold water as I came to realization that despite my very best efforts, the dialogue between the main characters in my short story “did not move the story arc forward in a meaningful way”.  Would I be able or willing to rewrite, reframe, reshape my story in such a narrow way in order to raise my “2” to a “3”?  Would I ever dare to hit that “publish” button on my blog posts if I didn’t feel sure that my words would be worthy of a solid “4” in all of the rubric categories?

And it suddenly hit me: we keep reading about “education reform” and how the goal of all of this “Common Core” and “21st Century Learning” stuff is supposed to be about encouraging kids to take academic and intellectual leaps. It is supposed to be about freeing them to think in new and exciting way, to ask great questions, to dare to pursue their own answers.


How creative and innovative would YOU be if you thought that every single attempt you made in any area would be judged according to someone else’s idea of “the best” effort?  How many intellectual risks would you take if you knew that your supervisor would be measuring your work on a scale where the expectation is that most people will fail to meet the top score?

I thought about my lovely rubric, all crisp and clean and typed into its little boxes.  Then I thought of JRR Tolkein, and the courage it took to come up with “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”

I said a silent prayer of thanks than young JRR never saw a “narrative rubric” in his life.  Then I carefully clicked the button on my computer which placed my lovely rubric into my “professional goals” folder.

Where it will stay, unused, for the remainder of the year.

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