Slice of Life Challenge
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I've been thinking a lot about the word permission. Asking permission. Getting permission. Needing permission. I struggle with this as an adult...today I'm remembering myself as a student. In school, I was a teacher pleaser, a rule follower...and that fit nicely, especially since I attended Catholic school. The nuns loved that about me. Thus began my love of school at an early age! I followed instructions, got permission and did exactly what was asked of me...and nothing more.
That is not the picture of a successful student in today's classroom...well, I guess the success is partial. Following instructions is certainly a valuable skill, but I argue that listening to instructions, questioning them, and finding your own way to accomplish the task is better. As a student, I'd never dare that! Question the teacher?!?! NO WAY! I wish someone had encouraged me to question, to risk, to do before asking permission.
Problem solving before permission is what I want out of my students.
A friend's son asked me to read a story he's writing. He's a rising sixth grader and was never really interested in writing before this story. I read it. I really enjoyed it. He's creating a world with dragons and dragon fighters...it's filled with creativity and action! I'm impressed. I spoke to his mom last night about his story and she told me that in school if the teacher assigned writing, he always did it. If the teacher said, "Topic sentence. Three reasons. Closing." He'd do that...and only that. This story is him! It's all him. He's working on it in his own time, using his own ideas...and this is so different than school. Hearing this I had a light bulb moment...maybe a chandelier moment! This was ME! In school, I wrote exactly what the teachers assigned and nothing more. It wasn't because I wasn't passionate about writing (working on my 57th notebook since fourth grade). It wasn't that I didn't know how...I wanted to follow the rules and I never felt permission to do any more than what was assigned. I wonder...what would I be like if my teachers encouraged me to find my own way. If they didn't give me so much guidance, but instead served as coaches and guided me when I needed help! What might I have tried?!?!
Now as a teacher, I need to remember this young writer. I need to remember to continue to push and challenge my rule followers, my permission seekers! They are the ones who constantly ask me, "Is this ok?" or "Is this good?" We have long discussions about those questions and answers. "Why are you asking me?" "Is it good because I say it's good? Why?" "Can you say it's good? Is that enough?" Sometimes I see the eye rolls when the discussions begin, but I don't let go. These are important discussions to have.
In the first few weeks of school, I assign my students a writing assignment, that seems crazy to them. I tell them that I want them to use everything they know about being a good writer and write for the next few minutes. I give them a sharpie and a brown paper lunch bag. I ask them to write until I tell them to stop. Sometimes I give them a prompt if they want it. For example: the story should have a motorcycle, peanut butter and a Chihuahua in it. I tell them I won't be answering any questions about the how's or whys of this assignment and I tell them that my rule followers may struggle with this. Even though they know I won't answer any questions, questions will still be asked. When they are, I repeat the simple instructions, "Using the tools I gave you write for the next few minutes." More questions are asked, and again, I say, "Using the tools I gave you write for the next few minutes." I usually repeat this four or five times. They laugh when they realize, I'm not saying anything else. When we finally begin, I write too...some students DIVE in and start furiously scribbling...some sit and think...some look troubled. We write. When we are done, we share with our tables, if we want. Then we talk. That's the best part!
Many students love this assignment. They love the freedom and they felt free to express themselves in their own way! I envy these students and get to see early on who my risk takers are. My favorite response to this assignment was a girl, a staunch rule follower, who was mad about this assignment. She was mad that I wouldn't answer questions. When I asked her about it she said that clearly, "I was mad. You wouldn't answer my questions. My mom and dad weren't here to answer my questions..." So I said, "What did you do?" She smiled and said, "I had to figure it out on my own." And when I asked her how she felt, she sat up straighter and announced, "I'm proud of myself." She took a risk. I had to push her to take a risk, but once she did, she stopped asking for my permission.
So today, let's take risks. Let's be models for our students. Don't ask permission. Do it!