I push my students to write...and write...and write every single day. My students open our entire day with writing. They write about themselves, their friends, and family. Then they write about what they read. They write about science topics, our current social studies focus…they even write about Math for Pete's sake!
Why should I require so much writing of my students, and yet I can't get myself to write on this simple and fun little blog? I love to read other blogs. I respond to many of them with comments. If I’m willing to write on other blog sites; what about my own?!
It came to me one day, while I was brainstorming about a new “Show and Tell” topic for my first graders. While pondering ideas, thoughts, assessment types and even more thoughts, it came to me…
Writing forces me to speak! It forces me to open up. It's a huge risk, actually. What is writing, after all, but our thoughts on paper that we don't say out loud? When I was in school, there was a lot of writing and reading. There was very little speaking. Most (if not all) of my teachers liked it quiet. I hardly ever spoke. When I came to this conclusion, I was absolutely in awe of how much my first grade students take risks on a daily basis!
Once we're able to think outside of our own little bubbles, it's so much simpler to observe and learn from others. I began to notice little things that held a huge amount of significance. Here they are:
1. There are very few speakers and quite a few listeners.
2. My students are placed in tables of 4 to 5. One thing that becomes evident year after year is their love of talking, and talking, and talking. But no one was listening!
3. Everyone seemed to have something important to say, but once a listener finally took the bold action to say in response, their statement was always powerful and meaningful. So, if listening leads to meaningful speaking, how can I best encourage my students to do both.
This was an exciting epiphany for me. It also reminded me of one of my entries from my National Boards. I am very proud to be a "NBCT!" One of my most proud career moments was when I passed my National Boards. My state highly values teachers that are certified.
I didn't pass the first attempt. I failed the Speaking/Writing component. However, and despite my best efforts, I didn’t pass the Speaking/Writing component the first time. The rubric read: "instruction may be inappropriate and fail to help student(s) progress as listeners, viewers, and speakers." I remember being appalled. Of course I knew how to get students to speak and listen. I had been teaching for ten or more years by then. After sleepless nights, tears, and riding the pity-train for a few weeks, I finally decided to put my “big-girl pants” on. I rolled up my sleeves up and made myself watch the video again.
Wow. I clearly did not know what it meant for students to have meaningful speaking opportunities. I sheepishly noted how I did most of the talking. My feelings of being appalled turned to self-discovery and growth. It led to the creation of the “Special Speaker” packet that my students and their families equally enjoy. After creating my packet, distributing it, assigning monthly topics, assessing, and receiving feedback from families, I began to tweak. I changed things. I edited “Letters to Home” and asked for student and parent input.
Here it is in final version. My very first Special Speaker packet. I hope you enjoy it as much as my students and I enjoyed it.