“Mom, when you read your students’ writing, it sounds like they’re high.”
I could have asked, “HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT SOUNDS LIKE?” but as a senior at a large suburban Los Angeles high school, I’m pretty sure she knows exactly what that sounds like. Anyway.
The other night I was reading through some of my students’ on demand pieces of short realistic fiction. My daughter got within range, so I said, “Hey! Listen to THIS one!” I was soooooo excited to read them! It was head and shoulders above past years, and I wondered why. Then I remembered that we were doing this unit much later than usual, and they had nearly eight months of reading, close reading, signpost reading….you know… under their belts. It shows. They are using voice in a way that makes me salivate to read more! They are purposeful, insightful, forceful. They are using writing as a way to express their lives and hopes and struggles.
On the day my mini-lesson involved thinking about issues and struggles in our personal lives that we could use for a story idea, we had an interesting discussion. Many of my students brought up the issue of living in two homes, and listening to heated arguments between two parents on the phone. I was touched with how honest they were, but mostly I was moved by how their shoulders let down a little when they realized that other people have some of the same worries they do. That is, of course, the beauty of fiction. It gives us a way to work through our own lives, to experience our own fears and to celebrate our own triumphs- indirectly and safely. To realize we are not alone. The fact that they were getting this, at nine years of age- well- that is why I do what I do.
Thus, the celebration of their voice, their passion, their commitment to writing fiction that tells important stories.
And then the little creeper of doubt and worry that has been nagging me for a few months now showed up again. How will they “show” on the new Smarter Balanced tests? How will these computer graded tests possibly capture and appreciate their work? Their growth? Their honesty and brilliance?
I am really really really worried. Everything could be at stake. Everyone is watching. And I don’t trust the process.
And still, they write about a child who figures out a way to escape the pain and anger in his or her life. They explore the territory of their hearts without really knowing it. They trust me. And they keep writing.
I can’t wait to read how it all ends.