I spend my days teaching 6th graders how to read and write. This semester, I taught my first creative writing elective and so last week, with the end of the semester, I gave my students a survey so that I could get feedback on what they liked and what they didn’t. Their feedback made me think about my writing practice and what I need to help me continue growing as not only a teacher, but as a writer, too.
Here’s what they told me:
1) Fewer lessons
At the beginning of every class, I’d teach a short lesson (no longer than 15 minutes) on some element of the writing process or writer’s craft. One day, I might teach students how to describe their characters more or how to come up with ideas when they were stuck. While I’d invite students to try the strategy in their own writing that day, I didn’t require them to.
Still, overwhelmingly, in their surveys they told me that they wanted fewer lessons and more time to write. Well, duh. <smacks forehead>
The only way we learn to write is by writing. Students, especially emerging writers, do need lessons on writer’s craft, so I won’t put an end to mini-lessons entirely. I am, however, going to reduce the number of lessons I give each week so that students just have more time to write.
2) More teacher feedback
Some people may not be able to imagine a 6th grade classroom that doesn’t have include a daily lesson. “What will the children learn?!?!1” they cry in dismay, tearing their hair out (or something like that.)
I know that the best way for me to improve my own writing is through targeted and personalized feedback. My students agreed. They wanted to hear more from me. So my plan for next semester is to do more writing conferences.
A writing conference is a one-on-one lesson that a teacher has with a student-writer. It usually starts with an open-ended question like “How’s it going?” and finishes with the teacher giving specific feedback on the student’s piece. This kind of feedback works well for two reasons: 1) it’s immediate so students can revise their pieces before turning them in, 2) it cuts down on the amount of time I spend reading and giving written feedback on student work.
3) More opportunities to share
This one came as a surprise. In my class, I allowed students to work with each other every day. I taught different ways of sharing work and giving and receiving peer feedback in pairs, small-groups, and whole-class. I often left 10-15 minutes at the end of class for students to share their work in front of the class, yet few took me up on the opportunity. I’m not sure if it was from shyness or false modesty. I’m not sure if it was fear of being criticized by other classmates.
In any case, many students said they enjoyed hearing their classmates’ writing and wanted more time for sharing and feedback. One thing that I’ll continue thinking about is how to encourage all of the writers in the room to share with each other.
All of this feedback got me thinking about my needs as a writer. I need:
1) Time to write. Writers grow by writing. Time to write is precious, and I need to show up for my writing every day.
2) Feedback. I’d like more beta readers who’d be willing to give me feedback on my writing so that I’m not only relying to feedback when the story is finished.
3) Opportunities to share. Blogging, writers’ groups, online writing communities, and more publishing! I need to seek out more opportunities to share my writing, being careful not to fall prey to shyness or fear.
I love how my students often make me reflect on my own writing practices!