Saturday, September 04, 2010

Reading their Writing

Here I wrote that I was looking forward to reading student writing again. School has only been in session for three weeks, so I may still be in some kind of honeymoon period, but so far I am still enjoying reading what my kids write. Some of the papers are much better quality than others, and there are certain young writers whose work you either grab first, or save as a reward for the end, because you know their stuff will be good.

I read everything my students write in my class (except the notes they write to each other while I'm teaching, and yeah, I read quite a few of those too). I know people say you don't have to, but to me, this is my job. I was very disappointed with the lack of feedback my daughter received on her writing when she was at school in the States. She would turn things in and not get them back for weeks. That just ensures that all enthusiasm about the writing is gone by the time you get it back. Then all too often when her work was returned, there would be no response to the content itself, just red marks through any errors.

I don't respond perfectly, and I'm always reading about ways to do it better. I am sure that there are times when students get work back from me and are disappointed in my responses. But I do read it all, and I do try to react to what the kid is really saying, and not just to the mistakes she made.

It is a lot of fun to see the world through my students' eyes. I remember all too clearly what it was like to be 13, and I wouldn't take any money to go through that again. But I get to experience it again every day - for better or worse - as I read what the kids write. Sometimes what they write is hilarious (not always intentionally so) and sometimes it makes me cry. Sometimes I can't figure out what the writer meant, and have to sit down with him and figure out his sentences with his help.

There are tales of intrigue, full of explosions, adventures of 13-year-old boys who work for international spy agencies, à la Alex Rider. There are stories about teenagers who discover that they have special powers, à la Harry Potter or Charlie Bone. There are superhero stories, often populated by other members of the class and frequently containing descriptions of flatulence. Some girls write laments over beautiful, unattainable boys they love and wish would love them back. They write about high school and the romantic adventures which they imagine take place there. There are stories of pets that died and injuries sustained while riding motorcycles or walking down the street, stories of trips taken and fun at camp, stories about the birth of baby brothers and sisters. There are poems about their favorite colors and their cats and their parents. They tell of their BFFs, the meanness of people they thought cared about them, how hard it is to say goodbye. There are rants about injustice, both the suffering of the poor and the anguish of those who are forced to do homework, attend school against their will, and refrain from chewing gum in class.

And this year, there is piece after piece about an earthquake that changed their lives. This is some of the best writing I've ever read from middle schoolers. I am sure that part of that is because of my own intense emotional involvement in the topic. But I am also struck by my students' insight into their experience, both of the quake itself and of what happened to them afterwards, whether they were evacuated or stayed in Haiti. I am thinking seriously about producing some kind of anthology of their earthquake stories, because I think other people should read them, too.

I am honored to read this writing, the silly and the serious, because I believe it is all part of what my students are working through, both the ordinary growing up part and the recovering from extreme trauma part. Sure, some of my kids are squirrely and goofy; sure, some of them talk all the time; yes, one of them asked me in class last week why I hate him, since he had observed I scolded him for something and let someone else get away with the same thing. We're still dealing with seventh and eighth grade, and no instant maturity has been conferred on anyone - them or me. But what a blessing to be here, with them, right now! I thank God every day for letting me have this opportunity.

1 comment:

Tricia said...

i would buy that anthology!