Modeling Vulnerability

I’ve always loved writing. My earliest memory of feeling like a writer was in Mrs. Jones’ sixth grade class at Piedmont Middle School in San Jose. I distinctly remember how Mrs. Jones invited each of us in class to write about a memorable experience we had. I chose to write about a boogie boarding experience gone wrong. I don’t remember everything about that exact piece, but I do remember finally feeling like a writer. Ever since this writing assignment in sixth grade, I have loved writing. I constantly find myself writing down my thoughts, lists, informational pieces, narrative tidbits here and there, and even responses to things I read. However, I have never ever sat down to write poetry. In fact, poetry made me really uncomfortable. Honestly, I can’t pinpoint why. The fact is, I never considered myself one who could actually write poetry. It was intimidating.

Yet, as a writer I know that my best writing often comes when I push myself out of my comfort zone. Come to think of it, the best of many things in life come when we push ourselves out of our comfort zones. So, on the first day of this month, National Poetry Month, I decided it was time to become comfortable with discomfort. I decided it was time to start writing poetry.

During the first few days of April, I found myself on spring break, so I had a little bit of time to warm up to poetry before writing in this form with my students. After seven days of writing it on my own- stressing about the right words, thinking my poems will never be up to snuff, I decided to just stop worrying about it and allow myself to be vulnerable.

So, when it came time to write poetry in class, I sat in front of my students, only the classroom document camera between us, and I started chatting with them about free verse poetry. When it comes to writing, I am not a rule follower. As a student, my assigned five paragraph essays were always four or six, and I always refused to use the teacher mandated planning pages because I wanted to make my own plans (I suspect this does not surprise anyone). Naturally, I gravitated toward reading and writing free verse poetry.

So, when it came time to finally write a poem in front of my students, I told them that after reading and discussing our ideas around Jacqueline Woodson’s poem Reading from Brown Girl Dreaming, which was projected on our board, I suspected that poets often write poems about strong feelings or emotions that became overwhelming or all encompassing. I suspect that they do not worry about rules and fitting into prescribed boxes. It sounded something like this…

“Based on Jacqueline Woodson’s poem Reading, I’m guessing one way poets might think of ideas is by identifying really strong feelings or emotions they’re having. Then, I suspect they just start writing from their hearts and minds without worry.”

My students were nodding while looking up and me and Jacqueline Woodson’s poem projected on the board. I continued…

“So, I’m going to try that right now… Last night I went to a concert. I saw Weezer and the Pixies. It was just amazing!”

(As an aside, a few knew Weezer’s music, but I was alone in my love for the Pixies among my 10 and 11 year-old poets)

“When the band came on, the lights dimmed, the crowd jumped to their feet, and the beat of the drum and the strum of the guitars started to just overtake me. I felt pure joy!”

Then, I turned on the document camera and started writing in view of all my students. I just wrote what I felt while thinking of the previous night.

Once my poem was written, I continued chatting with my students…

“So, did you notice how I just thought of a really strong feeling I had? Did you notice how I just wrote from my heart without really worrying? It’s now your turn…”

Before I could even get my last words out, I noticed many of my fifth graders had already started writing their poems- from their hearts.

What they envisioned, felt, and created that day just blew my mind! I am so excited to see where the rest of the month, and actually the rest of this school year takes us. Sometimes, our most powerful lessons come when we don’t make exact plans and we just model vulnerability as writers and poets (yes- I’m a poet!) for our students.

Here are some of the poems my students wrote that day. All poems are shared with permission.

Thank you for reading and welcoming my vulnerability.

-Christina

Greenbelt Writing- Thank you, Ralph Fletcher!

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Greenbelt writing inspires students to discover who they are and how they can grow into themselves as writers. This is just one of many pieces from the past few weeks.

 

How often in a child’s life do they get to set their own purpose and carve their own path? Perhaps a better question is, how often do the adults around them relinquish control to encourage kids to find their own way?

Well, I venture to guess that in today’s standards-focused schools, much of what kids do is decided by the adults around them.  Even in my own classroom, this is definitely the case. I set the schedule and I choose the lessons for the day. Again, I venture to guess that this is the case in most classrooms across the country.

However, I am a firm believer in choice- choice in where to sit, what to read, with whom to work, and at what pace to work. After all, I may set the tone in the room, but it is my students who are doing the actual work of learning.  In our reading workshop, choice is truly the name of the game, and my kiddos are all readers because of it.

However, I have to say that our classroom writing workshop just had a different feel to it. In writing workshop, I selected the genre, the lessons, the small groups, and the time of day. My students always selected their topics, but it just wasn’t enough to get them as excited and engaged in writing as they were with reading.

Enter Joy Write.

In Ralph Fletcher’s groundbreaking professional book for teachers, Joy Write, writing isScreen Shot 2018-03-18 at 11.09.38 AM given back to the writer. There are many aspects of Joy Write that I could bring up, but the one that has had the biggest impact on my fifth grade writers this year is the idea of Greenbelt Writing.

Earlier this school year when I introduced Greenbelt writing to my young writers, I first showed an aerial picture of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. We discussed how in the park some people choose to bike, while others decide to go for a run or walk. Some might choose to have a fun and lively picnic with a large group of friends while others find solitude on a quiet bench reading. And, just a few yards away, others are walking their dogs, joining the Sunday outdoor lindy hop, strolling through the rose garden, or suffering through a paddle boat ride on a rickety old boat on the Stowe Lake. The point is- everyone uses the city’s greenbelt in a way that suits them at that moment in time. And, what to do and how to do it is completely up to each individual park-goer. We then connected this idea to writing.

In Greenbelt writing, young writers have complete choice over absolutely everything- genre, writing partners (or no writing partners), topic, place to work, publication for all to read or not, etc. Essentially, it is a space and time for students to discover who they are and what they need as writers. Needless to say, after this idea was first introduced, there were squeals of joy and wide eyed anticipation for the possibilities to come!

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Students can choose to share their pieces on our classroom Greenbelt wall.

Roughly once a week now for the past few months, one of our writing workshop sessions has been dedicated to greenbelt writing. In addition, when students feel they need a break from assignments, they are encouraged to do what is best for their growth as an individual writer, which may be to take a break from the assignment and head into the greenbelt- I compare this idea to the time I was writing my thesis in graduate school. I could have sat and written that thesis straight for eight hours a day without a break, but it probably would not have been my best writing. Rather, I wrote it in shorter bursts, taking a break to explore other creative ventures. And, those other creative ventures actually made me a better writer and my thesis a stronger piece of writing. Those creative ventures added to who I was as a writer.

This is the beautiful side effect of Greenbelt writing- by exploring who they truly are as writers, my students’ assigned writing volume and quality has also increased. It’s amazing what kids can do when we put all of the decision making power in their hands.

Thank you, Ralph. Thank you for helping me to inspire my young writers. You’ve given so many teachers and students such a gift with Joy Write.

 

 

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Another small sample from the Greenbelt…  You never know what young students will come up with when given the opportunity to explore who they are as writers!