Thursday, September 9, 2010

Are you nervous now?

Sharing is tough at the beginning of the year. I was happily surprised by how quickly students got to work with writing this year (thank you, third grade teachers!). But productive writing does not always mean productive sharing. Even though most students already knew each other, we're still not a cohesive group. Students are reading their work, but there aren't many questions or comments. Stories aren't coming to life.

Today, I tried to pull some of the most prolific students to share. One kid had written four pages! Each day, he started a new piece, and managed to write an entire page in our 15 minutes of journal time. I wanted to get him to the front of the room to share his writing process with the rest of the class. Outside of class, he seems talkative and confident, but was oddly reluctant to share. Finally the truth came out-- "I'm a little shy when I have to read my writing," he told me.

Of course! I totally understood. And this shyness gets to the heart of why our sharing time just has felt stilted. "I understand that you feel shy," I told him. "I sometimes feel that way too. Sometimes I go and talk in front of other teachers, and I feel nervous." I paused for a moment. "But our writing class is a safe place. Everyone in here is going to share, and so everyone feels responsible to be polite."

I could tell from his face that this pep talk wasn't convincing, so I decided to go the fame and fortune route. "Besides, we are all so curious about what you have written. How many of you would like to hear what ____ has been writing?"

Hands shot up. In the face of this universal acclaim, how could he resist? He consented to come to the author's chair and read a bit of his writing, just a few sentences. I pulled out some of the interesting bits of his process--how he writes about things that have happened to him, how he thinks about new things to write about each night, how he comes ready to put his ideas on paper.

Just as I was finishing, an entire team of administrators came into my room. This was a scheduled walk-through, on the calendar for weeks, but I still felt a shiver of apprehension. And then there was ___, at my elbow. "Are you nervous, Mrs. Kissner?" he asked--quietly enough so that our guests couldn't hear, but loudly enough for the rest of the class to hear.

The question caught me off guard. Should I put on my game face and act super-confident, or admit to my apprehension?

I decided to come clean. "Yes. I think I am, a little bit," I told him, and smiled, and the class smiled too.

"It'll be fine," he whispered.

What a moment! These are the things that bring a class together--the in-jokes, the moments of sharing, the times that don't go quite as planned but turn out much, much better. Each of these moments helps to build the writing community. Tomorrow, I think, sharing will feel a little more natural.

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