Working with young writers is always interesting. As a teacher I am looking for that just right lesson, the perfect mentor text, the story or experience that motivates my students to put words on paper.
My fourth graders are struggling learners. “Doing school” is not yet in their bodies or minds. They can focus and learn I have seen them do it but each day the community functions differently. I am never sure which lesson I have planned will work. So last Thursday I over prepared. I had a personal lead-in story about my writing and a mentor text to share. The core idea was writers write from personal experience.
It is after lunch, the weather is switching from snow to rain and back again as these 4th graders sit down in the circle. They are a mirror of the changing weather pattern – moody, cold, gray and distractible. They won’t listen as I begin to share my personal story so I let it go knowing these guys buy in to a picture book almost always. No go! They are rolling on the floor, poking each other and all kinds of odd items are coming out of pockets to be played with.
I lose my cool and join them in their gray mood. “That is it!” I say ” Here are your writing journals. Go to your desk- your desk only. Date your page and start writing. We will write for 15 minutes, don’t stop, don’t talk, I don’t care about spelling but be sure we can read it. One, two, three start writing. No don’t talk – pencil on paper now.”
I set the timer on my phone. I am frustrated and now mad at myself for poor teaching. The lights are off and we are all sitting in this gloom but as I watch and walk around the room the noise had died away. Indeed, we only hear light pencil movements. All and I mean All the students are writing, thinking and continuing to write.
I quietly remind them if they get stuck to skip a few lines and begin writing about something new but keep their pencil moving.
They Do! For the next 15 minutes the students are intensely writing. When the timer goes off many are disappointed they are involved in the beginnings of stories or thoughts they want to continue to work on. We do stop ( I don’t want to push my luck) and settle back in at the circle and reflect on what happened, what it felt like to write.
Later I read through their notebooks. There are no real gems in their writing, not yet. We have a long ways to go as writers but for a few moments they heard, felt and knew they could do this thing we call writing.
What motivated them? This time it was a timed writing, next week it might be the mentor text. Who really knows what motivates them form day to day?
I am not sure what always motivates me, but I do know we just need to keep putting words on paper. Writing is hard work and even harder work for most of our students. Our job is to keep finding what motivates them day to day.
Keep that bag of tricks handy – you never know what will work.
What “tricks” do you use to keep them motivated?