The idea of language has always been fascinating to me. The mere thought that an amalgamation of lines and curves can form meaning automatically is mind boggling. Even right now, as I type these words, they come from abstract thought, an image in my mind that is a mixture of visuals and feelings, somehow translated into the words that you are reading. Right. Now.
The magical thing about it all is that kids have those thoughts, too. They just don’t always express them.
In my opinion, these thoughts and these words get tied up somewhere–somewhere between a lack of understanding and an abundance insecurity. Too often, writing practices confine children, leaving them to feel constantly criticized and utterly powerless, but a lack of any structure at all can be just as limiting. In order for children to become better writers, balancing freedom with intention is of utmost importance. It allows for a critical and purposeful process, meanwhile allowing students to take risks and internalize the beautiful freedom that comes from being vulnerable with their thoughts.
“It takes a lot of…” I stopped. “Hold on, I’m going to write this word down.”
My hands started with V and slowly leaked out the remaining 12 letters to spell vulnerability.
“Does anyone know what this means?” I asked.
“Yea! It’s like in my video game when a town is really vulnerable, it means it can get DESTROYED really easily.”
Not exactly what I had in mind.
“Totally,” I replied, “but there are other ways to think about vulnerability. It can be a good thing, too. When sharing our writing, and when giving feedback, we need to be really vulnerable with our thoughts. It will make us better writers.”
“Yea, it can be kind of scary sometimes to share writing,” another student confided in the class.
“It certainly can,” I replied, “but if we remember that we’re all trying to help, we can make our writing even better.”
The conversation turned to our conference form, where the students were able to see just the manner in which they will be able to give and receive feedback to each other. While the choices in the “I see…” sections are extremely intentional and linked to Common Core Standards, the form itself is open-ended enough that it allows for a focused and positive critique of their writing, intended to help them hone their skills one step at a time, as opposed to achieving perfection after the first shot.
“Using this form means that both people have to be vulnerable,” I continued. “The writer has to share his or her thinking, and the reader has to give some honest and positive feedback to help make the writing even better.”
We practiced with my story, and they were able to give it a try. Here are the results:
Well, they don’t quite know the difference between “word choice” and “grammar,” but at least they know how to give some honest and actionable feedback!