Reflection on Writing

Reflection on Writing

A Story by mhanv

A reflection on my teaching of writing and growth as a writer.


On a hectic afternoon in May, I did one of the scariest things a teacher can do: collect a writing assignment. Personal narratives, written by fifty bright and eager to please third graders. It only took reading a few to confirm what I had suspected (and feared) for some time...the narratives lacked what makes a story truly special, the heart. Sure, each narrative had a title, paragraphs were indented, lines were double spaced, and an impressive amount of attention had been given to conventions. But where was the voice? The unmistakable nine-year-old wit? It wasn’t there.

It wasn’t there because the kids didn’t know it should be there. They didn’t know because I, in my best intentions, had fallen into the dangerous but tempting trap of teaching writing as a product.  I was Captain Ahab and my students were the crew on the doomed Pequod, searching for our white whale, correct spelling. We know how that story ends. And even if it wasn’t that bad, I fell short on the beauty of the writing process. The summer institute realigned my priorities back to teaching writing as a process. I’ve carried Donald M. Murray’s words with me since first reading the essay Teaching Writing As a Process Not Product:

What is the process we should teach? It is the process of discovery through language. It is the process of exploration of what we know and what we feel about what we know through language. It is the process of using language to learn about our world, to evaluate what we learn about our world, to communicate what we learn about our world. (Murray 4)

These are the words that I will take back with me to my classroom. Writing is a process that allows so much discovery and growth and I want to be faithful to the process in my next year of teaching. To honor this process, I will hold writing workshop at the same time every day. I will not sacrifice workshop time to a lesson that ran too long. It can wait. I will remember that the process looks differently for each student--some may dive right into their notebooks, while others are discerning shapes on the ceiling while crafting the story in their head. Revising will not be a checkmark on a list, instead a feast of delight, picking each word carefully from a buffet of delicious choices. I will stay out of the way and let students carve their own paths with their stories.

My students’ narratives lacked heart because fear stood in the way. Fear told me that my students would not be ready for state testing if I did not prioritize conventions over voice. Fear told my students that I would grade harshly on their conventions, so they spent all of their time worrying about where to put a comma instead of where to put their feelings. In 9 Rights of Every Writer, Vicki Spandel says, “Fear of failure increases stress and willingness to take chances. Without risk, it is nearly impossible to grow as a writer.” (Spandel 63) Already in third grade, children have learned to be careful in their writing for the fear of writing wrong. I want to regain my confidence and lack of fear in the coming school year, and trust the writing instincts of myself and my students.  “If we trust the power of thinking, we will give our student writers the freedom to explore, to write badly in order to work their way through to the point where they are writing well.” (Spandel 69) The best way for my students to embrace failure is for me, their teacher, to fail and fail often. Share with them my own shortcomings and frustrations in writing. Embrace a culture of learning from our mistakes.

When I applied for the Little Rock Writing Project, my goals were to learn new writing strategies for the classroom and rediscover my own writing. Thanks to some incredible peers, I have a binder full of writing lessons and I’m itching to get back to the classroom and use them. I have also written more in the past two weeks than I have since college. I’m also leaving with a renewed commitment to treating writing like a process of discovery and writing without fear, and trusting the writing instincts of myself and my students.


© 2017 mhanv

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Added on June 14, 2017
Last Updated on June 14, 2017



Little Rock , AR