At the most fundamental level writing is a means to communicate ideas. After 6 years of teaching 5th grade, I am certain students benefit from seeing writing as more powerful than accolades or grades. Students need a relationship with writing that demonstrates the power it contains. One of the school wide goals at my site is that students leave our community ready to fully participate as citizens in this country. A fundamental part of citizenship is understanding the power of voice. In my classroom, I want students to experience the power their words have to effect change. This means students need opportunity to connect their writing to experiencing that kind of change.
Students encounter my power to shape their environment every time we enter the classroom together. It is really important to me that students also feel empowered to participate in the shaping of our learning environment as well. I want to give them regular opportunities to see how the power of their words can lead to change.
This year I implemented a letter writing system in our classroom. This involves student correspondence with me every week. I ask students to share what is going well, what they don’t like, and what they may want to change. Often in these letters students make me aware of their feelings, books they would like in our classroom library, goals they have for themselves, the fact they think social studies is sometimes boring. They discuss the seating arrangement, whether or not they can see the board, and how they feel if I asked them repeatedly to stop talking. Often the things they bring up require an immediate response on my part, sometimes I ask more questions and provide explanations, but most importantly their words help shape their world.
As I post this short blog, I visualize adding a poster to my room that says, “Our words help shape our world.” On the first day of school I asked my students which of them were writers. Not very many raised their hands. Even if they don’t grow up looking to a rite the next great American novel, they can all leave understanding that their words can help shape their world.
My Favorite Part of the School Day
This post is really easy for me to write. Finding my favorite part of the school day is really easy for me to do, because it is by far my favorite part. After lunch recess my students come in grab a journal and meet me on the carpet in the back of our classroom for writer’s workshop. We always begin with a review of the previous lesson. Then I start with my storytelling example. Thinking about what I want students to be able to do I tell my stories. Students interrupt with the questions and connections my stories bring up for them. A spirit of storytelling falls magically all over the room. Students share their stories, heads nod in agreement and laughter sometimes erupts. Once the room is bubbling with interest, ideas, and challenges for making our writing better, I send students off to find a place in the room to write. With a countdown from 20 to 1 the room goes from bubbling and noisy to quiet. Students huddle over notebooks pouring their hearts out with pencil onto paper. I walk around checking in with students, reviewing writing goals, but most of all just listening to the stories they want to tell. Stories give me clues about who they are and what their families are like. Storytelling is such an integral part of the human experience.
As a teacher, I really enjoy spaces where I can set up rigorous goals for my students while building relationships with them. Writer’s workshop is a space where genuine questions about students’ lives lead into meaningful learning goals for their writing. Students don’t feel like I am pushing them to next levels of learning, they are just brimming with desire to share their story.
It never fails. I will be ending a conference or starting one and a student will say, “Ms. Simmons will we get to share out today.” It is as soon as I hear this that I know little writers are emerging, feeling proud and ready to publish their stories, to make their voices heard. I teach so students can learn their voices matter. I teach so students can learn their stories are important. In my mind these little writers of today are the voices of tomorrow that will demand liberty and justice for all.