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Creating Self-Directed Writers

My name is Elana and last year I had the privilege of teaching a third grade integrated co-teaching (ICT) class in a small, progressive school in the heart of the East Village. After an exciting, overwhelming, and inspiring first day, way back in September of 2014, I remember wondering how this experience, this community, and this job would compare to the one I previously held in the South Bronx. Though different in a variety of ways, both schools taught me invaluable lessons. One lesson is the importance of making school not just a place children go from 8:30 a.m. to 2:50 p.m., Monday through Friday, but a place that inspires them to see their far-reaching potential. Consequently, students aspire to become the best versions of themselves—academically, socially and emotionally. While I am there to help guide, problem-solve, and create an inspirational environment, I, as a teacher, aspire to help my students become independent and self-motivated by June.

Why Focus on Writing? A Look Back at this Past Year…

 
Writing is one of my favorite subjects to teach because anything is possible. It is only your imagination that establishes the limits! Writing can be incredibly thrilling for some students and incredibly daunting for others. So what does the daunting nature of writing mean for me, sitting before twenty-three third graders, all with different interests, backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses. A universal challenge teachers face is how to meet each and every unique child where they are at and challenge them appropriately. I went home a handful of times this past year feeling badly that I had not had a chance to confer with one of my students. There were times I felt overwhelmed and even inadequate. I care tremendously about my students; I know that I work very hard to give them the best version of myself. But my efforts didn’t feel like enough. I was determined to figure out ways to equip my class with collaboratively developed resources to help them learn and grow, even without a teacher by their sides.
 
I had an absolutely wonderful group of students this past year—such a wide array of personalities, interests, strengths and backgrounds. Many of them loved any opportunity to share ideas and use their imaginations. They loved listening to stories. I loved seeing their eyes widened and bodies completely still as they waited to hear what would happen next. 
 
I structured writing units through an examination and dissection of mentor texts. When searching for and selecting mentor texts, my goal was to ensure the topics would excite the kids and that the texts were well-crafted (which would challenge my students to try different approaches in their own writing). We did a lot of discussing, questioning, and critiquing. My students were a chatty bunch and discussion was often a productive way to capitalize on that chattiness. We worked as a whole class, in small groups, partnerships, and independently. 
 
I wanted writing to be fun, a time the kids looked forward to and an outlet through which they could explore and express themselves. Looking back, I think most of them genuinely did enjoy the writing! However, I did make mistakes and so I focused on what could be done better the next time. I sometimes asked my kids to reflect on a unit and their experience as students. I asked them: "What was great?" and "What are some next steps to make it even greater?" At the end of the day, growth in both mind and heart is the true mark of success.