A Summer of Writing

monarchMonarch caterpillar on Milkweed flower (nhpr photo)

Almost every day during the school year I ask my students to write. Write about their research, what they think about their reading, letters to others, reflections on events. The list of writings is really quite endless. As I watched some struggle with these tasks I decided it was time for me to revisit being in that role as a writer. I began by participating in the month long, Slice of Life, writing challenge back in March. We had to write something every day. It was harder than I thought it would be. I now understand what a student means when he/she says, “I don’t have anything to write about.” They really may feel that they have nothing to write about! I must admit that once the month was over, my writing pretty much took some time off. I imagine my kids would do the same.

The end of the school year brought me to the Southern Maine Writing Project. This, it turns out, would be the beginning of my C.A.S. course work. After an orientation in May, I attended 2 weeks of daily writing workshops right after school got out. Again, I was reminded what it might feel like for my kids while they write, intimidating. The one thing that is staying with me from this wonderful experience is that writing is best if it belongs to the owner of the writing, the one doing the writing. While my students will continue to have writing assignments and writing units that they focus on and participate in all throughout the school year, I will read the kids’ writing through a new lens. One that puts them and their voice front and center. It really isn’t about what I want. It’s about what they want to say and how they want to say it. I should be guiding them in that undertaking.

The two week institute ended with many new ideas and writing experiences for me to continue to reflect on. Yet, I felt that wasn’t enough so I’ve joined another one, Teachers Write. It’s another online writing challenge for teachers. This one is hosted by the great Kate Messner, an amazing author! I first found Kate when I bought her book, Over and Under the Snow. I loved that book when I first read it. I still love it. This challenge that she is leading has prompts and some guidelines that I’m already enjoying. Normally I don’t like writing prompts. But the more I am exposed to them the more I am coming to appreciate their place in writing, especially kids’ writing. While there is certainly something to be said for open ended writing there  is also something to be said for prompted writing. I’m finding that prompting writing gives me discipline, focus, structure. Yes challenging and a bit confining at first, but constructive and instructive in the end. Good things.

Our first prompt today, posted by Kate, was to think about our wonderings. (I knew there was a reason I like her and her writing so much!) We are to think about our wonderings because that is where all good writing comes from, wonderings. I just love that notion. The first time I heard about wonder as a central theme to writing and education came from my readings of Rachel Carson. Her writings connecting wonder with how children explore their world, thus learn, struck a very deep chord within me. Over the years I have continued to explore the notion of “wonder” and its relationship in education. And my conclusion stays firm, it is front and center. Without it we only have bland, meaningless experiences. No true education can occur without wonder. Here’s a quote from Rachel Carson that has remained a beacon for my instructional practices for as long as I can remember.                                                                  “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later year…the alienation from the sources of our strength.” Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder                                          There is more to that quote, but this tidbit gives you a sense of the role that this belief had in the teachings of this talented marine biologist and environmentalist.

So, today we begin our next writing challenge with some wonderings. Here goes –

My Wonderings List:
I wonder what happened to the monarch butterflies that I use to see.
I wonder about the chipmunk family living under our pool. How many babies? When do they leave their nest? Are they here all winter?
I wonder about my tomato plants. Will they survive the dreaded leaf mulch I mistakingly used?
I wonder about my daughter and what it’s like living in Miami.
I wonder what she will do when a hurricane comes.
I wonder about hurricanes!
I wonder about the robins we now have. There seems to be 2 generations and yet more nests are being built.
I wonder how long they stay as a family unit.
I wonder about the children who go to school in the tiny and remote island of Unst, Scotland. (I visited there and have a photo of me at a bus stop there. It is the most northerly school bus stop in the UK) What is their summer like? What is their typical school day like?
I wonder what I’ll have for lunch.

Happy wondering. Whether you want to write today or not, keep wondering.

Mary

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