Friday, November 6, 2015

It’s That Time of the Year Again!

By Shari Hales

The air feels electric as I make preparations for another set of 200 seventh and eighth grade students to walk into my life--- and take over. As I plan, I’m struck by how my teaching focus has changed since taking part in the Summer Institute at Eastern. (For emphasis, I’m going to underline all of the best practices I have gleaned from my time with colleagues at EMWP.) My focus is still on building a learning community, but now my lessons engage students through writing and sharing their writing.

For the first few weeks, we build our writing territories through different activities, like heart maps, neighborhood maps, and lists of pet peeves. I write with my students now, always. It’s one of the ways that they can see it’s important. They can see my struggles and my triumphs. They can see the work and energy that goes into writing, and the great reward writers feel when we produce something worthwhile. As the year continues, we write every day in my classroom, for different purposes and different audiences. We may answer a prompt, write a poem, make a zine, write on a given topic, or have writer’s choice time.

And now I know I don’t have to grade all of their writing! Some of their writing is just for thought, just to get their ideas out onto a page. Other times, their drafts show the evolution of their work, but don’t need to be graded. I don’t have to check every paper for every error. In fact, it’s detrimental to them as writers if I do! This is freeing as a teacher. They can create more because of this realization.

Writing is a great way to make connections with my students and their families. With the support of EMWP’s Family Literacy Initiative, I now invite my students’ parents to come to the school and learn some ways to help their children with their writing. We share with one another about our cultures and life stories through our writing. We even have a Celebration of Student Writing at the end of the year.

So, as you can see, the experiences I’ve had working with and for EMWP have shaped me as a teacher (and a writer, but that’s different article). Another year begins, and as my contact with the exceptional teachers at the Writing Project continues, I know that my teaching will only improve and my students will be the ones who gain the most from my professional development of choice.

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