Waiting to Exhale
WRITING EMERGENCY: An urgent need to record (in written form) something that will matter beyond today...
"It's misleading to think of writers as special creatures, word sorcerers who possess some sort of magical knowledge hidden from everyone else. Writers are ordinary people who like to write. They feel the urge to write, and they scratch that itch every chance they get."-----Ralph Fletcher
In yesterday's post, I wrote about reading emergencies; but as I so often do nowadays, I've been pondering what this must mean about the inverse--how do reading emergencies relate to writing emergencies.
If reading is like breathing in and writing breathing out, they are inseparable and reciprocal.
Somewhere near the top of my list of "school worries" is that somehow we are discounting writing as the exhale portion of breathing. It seems like writing has become something that we most often assign vs. teach, use to assess vs. explore. Students often write to regurgitate text evidence from stated details or inferences in order to prove that they read closely... or at all.
When writing is used primarily (or exclusively) as a response to reading or to a prompt created by a teacher (or some "educational" supply company), it seems to be reducing our students' abilities to "exhale" to laborious, stilted gasps.
Let's think (metaphorically) about writing as a physiological exhale. Exhale means "to give forth." Are students allowed, indeed encouraged, to "give forth" what they possess in their minds, hearts, and maybe even souls as writers?
A slow exhale can produce a sense of calm, relaxation--even relieve stress, thus providing health benefits. Writers know that picking up the pen (or sitting down at the keyboard) and producing words can also be healing, promoting mental and physical health. Writing about personally meaningful experiences has been shown to improve moods, cause immunizations to work better, and actually promote physical healing of injuries. Writing also supports mental health by helping the writers gain insights and perspectives into their life stories; this, in turn, even resulted in better sleep patterns for many!
Beyond standards and curriculum, building a writing community in your classroom shares the same benefits of building a reading community. Students feel safe, "known," and appreciated. Respect is built, differences honored, the human experience shared. Students learn to pay attention to details as readers, to generously consider one another's contributions. Perhaps, most importantly, writing communities foster interest and compassion for others' experiences, thoughts, and dreams.
"Here's the secret to writing: there is no secret." (Ralph Fletcher)
So often, teachers think that there is a magic formula to "getting" kids to write, want to write, sustain themselves as writers. As Ralph says, "there is no secret." But this IS why I believe in the writing workshop... and that we need to see writing emergencies beyond those that consume us (at least, at times) when preparing for standardized tests.
Writing emergencies are really the reasons many of us write:
- to reflect
- to share
- to notice
- to purge
- to wonder
- to explain
- to ponder
- to remember
- to explore
- to observe
- to evaluate
- to feel
- to analyze
- to question
- to influence
- to inform
We write with the hope of somehow adding value to the world that we share. No matter how small we may think our writing is, it can touch lives when we are not there and long after we're gone or have parted ways... it reminds us of who we once were and of who we can become. It accounts for our time on earth, our learning as individuals and collectively as a society.
Ultimately, we write to become better... better humans, writers, citizens.
Through learning to gather ideas, words, lines, moments... and to explore writing and purposes in notebooks, students will take joy in sharing their experiences and noticings as part of our wondrous world. Students can develop keen minds through closely examining observations and learning to consider all viewpoints. Writers have clarity, as (like exhaling slowly) writers know how to slow down to mindfully and intentionally take it all in. They know what they think and how to articulate those thoughts. They are powerful.
Teach them to carry note taking tools or devices. Let them take delight in all there is to see, taste, touch, feel, hear, experience, believe in, yearn for, laugh or cry about, to consider. Teach them to hear each other and to know that they are heard. Value their real writing.
When students write with purpose for real audiences, they find their voices and their rightful places in the world. They develop caring and compassionate hearts by valuing and connecting to other people and all living things. They develop critical minds, open to considering all facets of complex problems, capable of global thinking for the greater good.
So writing well is an emergency. In our classrooms, in our homes, across our lives.
How will you create a love of writing in your students?