I have been reviewing a lot of student writing of late, which has definitely eaten into the time I have to spend some time investing in my own writing. I have quite a few things I am itching to pound into words but have been partially burned out, feeling behind, and letting a lot of things get in the way. All this got me thinking a little about my relationship to the National Writing Project network.
In reading some of the self-assessments and reflections from my ninth grade students, I am finding a common thread, corroborated by the number instances and the individuals writing the same thing. While students are admittedly not the most reliable reporters, I continue to see statements that suggest my students have already written more in my class already then they have in their entire eight grade year, and we are not even through the first semester. Interestingly, many of the students reporting this I would rank a bit higher on any reliability scale. Plus, I know it is probably adolescent hyperbole. Yet with sadness I must admit, this would not shock me if it proved true.
Perhaps more curious to me is I genuinely wonder just how much writing they are asked to do and what the nature of it is. On this point, I am genuinely inquisitive and not looking to just pass judgments. Given the chance I want to have some conversations with teachers not just in the middle school where I teach, but I also feeling some compulsion to make inquiries of other teachers in the high school, particularly outside the English department. Honestly, I have always been a bit reluctant to do this, for fear that it might seem aggressive and judgmental.
Now I know I make the kids write a lot, although I try to be careful about believing my own hype on this, not to mention “a lot” is a pretty relative term. Still, I am growing a little weary reading accounts of how minor the writing demands are, be it middle school, other departments, or even within my own department. I guess my suspicions are mounting again on this front, which happens from time to time.
Part of what may be fueling all this suspicion and concern is my steadfast feeling that many teachers simply do not consider themselves writers, which brings me back to the Writing Project. One of the core values of the Writing Project effort focuses on the teacher as a writer. Many a Writing Project teacher is likely to echo the idea that it is hard to teach anyone how to write if you are not engaged in writing yourself. Thus, if many of my colleagues just don’t think of themselves as writers how much instruction are they really able to provide?
What’s more, it seems to me that as I informally look around writing is almost synonymous with assessment. Is it any wonder that I encounter so many fourteen year-olds that are reluctant or weak writers? Almost every time students put pen to paper it is to produce work destined to become fodder for teacher’s judgments, teachers who do not consider themselves writers but seem to believe they know good writing when they see it. Even more disconcerting is when the only real value of student writing has is merely a means for extracting some knowledge that they should have obtained. Talk about a recipe that would make anybody gag, not to mention a mess of mixed messages.
I certainly don’t feel like I am breaking any new ground here, but I guess I have been feeling some of this more acutely as of late. This seemed as good a place as any to show it. It all makes me want to stop reading student writing and get to writing some more of my own.