Students often have a lot to say, but rarely do they have an outlet where they can speak and write freely. If I think back to my school days, I remember teachers giving me opportunities to share my thoughts, either during class discussions or more privately in a journal.
Today’s teachers often feel pressure from higher-ups to teach to the test and create writing instruction that is inauthentic and formulaic. Student voice then becomes robotic and deemed unimportant. Their writing lacks voice and style. It becomes a chore.
I’ve never been a fan of doing what others tell me to do, so you won’t see me teaching to any test or assigning one five paragraph essay after another. Instead, I try to create a balance of writing in my classroom. I give students time to write about books they’re reading; I assign quick writes with interesting prompts; I allow students to discuss text in groups, then write about it individually. Basically, I give them an outlet to use their voice.
Let me be honest – my students are behind when it comes to grade level writing. Some of them still struggle to capitalize “I” when it stands alone; some have difficulty writing complete sentences; many struggle to elaborate on ideas. While I spend a great deal of time teaching students the basics of writing, I am deliberate about giving them time to read and write.
I realized a long time ago that I am not Superwoman – I must meet my students where they are. If that means some are working on writing a complete sentence while others are penning the first chapter of a novel, then so be it. Regardless of where they are as writers, the most important message I can teach them is that they ARE writers. They have a voice and it deserves to be heard.
Recently, I assigned a poetry project in conjunction with our class novel, The Crossover, which is written in verse. Students composed 10 different types of poems, all of which occurred in the novel. I assigned one poem a night for homework and then gave students feedback. When we completed the novel, students compiled their poems into a book and some even read at our poetry slam.
As I was grading the poems yesterday, I came across a poem that gave me pause. This particular student has, like so many, has slipped through the cracks of the education system. As a reading specialist, I worked with her in third grade – she was below grade level then and in three years time, not much has changed. She is a very sweet girl who craves one-on-one attention from teachers. However, I’ve noticed that as the work gets more difficult, she shuts down. Head down on desk, frequent requests to visit the nurse and restroom, negative behavior towards peers – all of the classic signs of a student seeking negative attention because she is frustrated.
After reading her poem, I realized that her frustrations extend beyond academics. Like so many of our students, she is dealing with a lot more than what can be seen on the surface or shown with data on a standardized test. In this onomatopoeia poem, she gives readers insight to her “normal.” Upon hearing what she thinks are gunshots, she drifts back to sleep. Gunshots are not cause for panic, just something that wake her up, like a dog barking or a thunderstorm. Only it’s not a dog or thunder.
There’s a deeper storm brewing inside some of our students and they need to be heard. Give them an outlet and they will use it.
I’m listening. Are you?