Monday, October 31, 2011

The Transformative Power of Writing

Today, I want to tell you what I learned from a student that we'll call Thomas. At the beginning of the week, we read an article by National Geographic Kids entitled, "Jane Goodall's 10 Way to Help Save Wildlife." This interview with Jane Goodall tied in beautifully to the pieces that my students are writing with their collaborative partners in another state about how they can make a difference in the world.

This led to a great discussion about other ways we could make a difference in the environment. One student suggested picking up trash when they were at one of our local parks. She explained how it would improve not only the park for each of us, but also for the wildlife in the area. The rest of the class were chiming in their agreement when Thomas spoke up and said, "I don't roll like that. It can just stay there 'cause it doesn't bother me and I'm not touching someone else's mess." Many of his peers tried to persuade him otherwise, but he just crossed his arms and shook his head. We returned to our discussion.

A couple of days later, Thomas was sitting with me as we were conferring on his research and ideas for the piece he is preparing for our collaborative journal with the theme "Making a Difference." Each writer chose a topic that interested them. As we spoke about what he had discovered on his topic (for privacy reasons his topic will remain anonymous), I had a lot of difficulty getting him to focus. He set a plan of action and returned to work on his writing. While I conferred with my other students, I was constantly having to redirect him back on task, reminding him of the plan he had laid out for his project.

The next day, while we were working on our writing, he came running over to me with a shocking fact. Not only was he upset by it, but he had come up with several solutions. His focus changed; his pace accelerated. When it was time for lunch and I'm trying to get my students out of the door, he kept stepping in front of me to show me what he had written. Telling him that I would look at it after lunch or even during lunch wasn't good enough. He wanted me to read what he had put together right then.

I was amazed at his dedication and enthusiasm when the day before he was busy doing anything but this project. He was outraged with the injustice of his topic and he wanted to change something right then; he felt strongly that he needed to share it with me without delay. I agreed to confer with him while walking down the hall (we are one of the last classes served lunch...we cannot be late without some unpleasant consequences). As we walked and conferred, I marveled at how expertly and passionately he discussed his topic. When I asked him why this topic meant so much to him, he referred back to that shocking fact he had shared with me earlier. He explained how it made him think of something that had happened in his family. This experience made him re-evaluate some of his thinking. As he wrote, he examined ways that he could affect some change to make the world a better place.

After lunch, we had a guest come and lead my writers in an activity. She had them write letters to a community member who was away at basic training and missing his friends, family, and community. My students were very excited and wrote heartfelt letters. So what about Thomas? Was his new found determination to help make the world a better place a one time experience? After they had been writing for several minutes, Thomas spoke up, "I really like this. I think this is good for us to do because it's really going to make him happy. I fell good about it too." Hmm, I guess Thomas does "roll like that" after all. And what made the difference? Giving him the opportunity to learn and write about a topic that interested him. Writing has the power to help you explore, grow and change your thinking. Writing can transform who you are as a person as it did for Thomas.  I wonder what else he will roll with this year. There is no telling, but I can't wait to find out.

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