In sixth grade there is a lot of writing and I think it’s important to write with your students.
I’ll pull up an empty chair, or move to an unoccupied desk, or sometimes sit on the floor, with one of my many notebooks in hand, and I will write right alongside them.
I can tell during the first part of the year how unusual this is for them, to have a teacher in the midst. They gawk at me, a bit, curious about what I am up to. I just keep on writing, and soon, it just becomes part of the routine of the classroom.
When they share out what they’ve been working on with the class, which they do on a regular basis, I sometimes share what I am working on, too. Sometimes I don’t. I give myself the same freedom as I give them.
The other day, though, I shared out a page from my writing notebook with my students. We had been doing some extended freewriting, giving them an opportunity to compose whatever they wanted, and just like them, I had started with a blank page and only a few scattered ideas.
There were audible gasps, and appreciative laughter, as they looked at the mess of my notebook page. Heck, it is a mess. I have doodles, pieces of a poem, the start of a story, and a weird piece of writing that started in the bottom left corner of the page and ended up stretching around the border like some painted trim work in the living room.
I’m apt to scribble out words and phrases all the time, particularly with poetry or songwriting when I am aiming for rhythm.
Don’t get me started on my handwriting, either, which was ruined (or so I will stipulate in any court of law) by ten years as a newspaper reporter on the run with a small notebook in which I had to scramble to capture quotes during interviews on the fly.
I have a shorthand system all of my own and my handwriting never recovered from my newspaper days (but I can type like a madman).
The writer behind the curtain
I think it’s important that my students see the chaos of my writing. All too often, my sixth graders think of the writers they most enjoy — Rick Riordan, Suzanne Collins, etc. — and imagine these authors sitting down and pumping out a complete book in a sitting or two.
They understand a bit about the publishing process — about how editors work with writers — but they don’t comprehend the number of dead ends, lost threads and abandoned texts that no doubt litter many writers’ notebook pages.
They know I write, and sometimes I do get things published in our local newspaper and in online spaces.