Penny Kittle, author, speaker, and educator spoke at the ALL WRITE CONFERENCE a few years ago. She shared a story that touched my heart and put the icing on the cake for what I had been trying to do in my primary writing classes.
Penny had turned in her teacher hat to become a reading coach. She was sitting in the back of a classroom watching and wanting to support the teacher. The teacher had given the class a writing prompt and time to write. She walked around the room reading and discussing with students. One boy hadn’t picked up his pencil. She soon came over and told him to get busy.
When she walked away, he pulled out paper and wrote a while. Then slid it back in his desk. She came around again and repeated the prompt, told him to get busy or he would stay in at recess to do the assignment. Again, as she walked away, he pulled out the paper and wrote more. Carefully, he slid it back in his desk. She came around the third time, clicking her nails on his desk and said, “That’s it. . . you are staying in. AND I want if finished.”
Now Penny had a hard time sitting by and watching. She had the student the year before and he was a writer. When the class left for recess. She went over to him and asked why had hadn’t written anything? He said that he just couldn’t. Then she asked to see the paper. Sheepishly, he pulled it out of his desk.
There was a beautiful story. . . I wonder what Christmas is like in Afghanistan? I wonder what Dad will be doing? Will he miss us as much as we miss him?
No wonder he couldn’t write on the prompt. . . this is the story that was on his heart and soul. Let me ask . . . do you accept all your invitations? Or do you keep the ones that bring joy?
Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, explains that giving students a choice in book selection, will cause them to read more. . . therefore read better, love reading, become life long readers.
Giving students a choice of writing will bring them joy. . . they will write more. . . their writing will get better. YES, they do have to learn how to write a prompt, but teach that as a genre. Share great mentor texts. Share the writing craft. . . stand on the shoulders of wonderful writers of all genres. . . ask students to give the craft a go in their writing.
The students will read like a writer and write like a reader. Let the students explore, observe, investigate the great authors. Encourage them and give an invitation to write. . . but if something is more pressing on their minds.. . they can write that instead. Writing that brings joy will touch their heart and soul. . . they will have to write! They will want to write. . . They will become writers.
Penny quoted the the of INVITATION to Donald Graves. . . she stood on his shoulders with her classes. . . thank you Donald and Penny.