Story Challenge Day 14: On Letting Things Marinate

I’ve had a lot more writing time with my kids, and it’s one of the things I’m proudest of this year.

It’s something kids look forward to, because they get to spend time writing whatever it is they choose. It’s a class session I really look forward to, because I get to be eyeball-deep in my kids’ work. That, and I get to see a bunch of kids all jazzed up about things.

There is, of course, a catch. I review work each week, keeping tabs on how the students are progressing towards their goals and what skills and strategies I think should be in their pipeline.

Most of the time, I can get a pretty clear direction about how help a kid move their writing forward. Perhaps we can work on punctuating dialogue, fleshing out a story, or keeping a balance of narration so a story makes sense.

Yet each week, there are one or two pieces of writing I just can’t get a feel for. For one reason or another, I just can’t think which direction I’d like to push a writer. Usually, it’s either because the writer has demonstrated exceptional skill, or because there are so many areas that need improvement that the whole thing seems overwhelming.

In those cases, I have sometimes just…not done anything with that writing. I’ve not written down any notes for further instruction or improvement. Just let it pass of until our next session, where I can see what develops further.

Until now, I’ve beaten myself up for letting that writing go. I’ve held the mindset that I owe it to my students to give them feedback or something to work on with every turn.

But what if that’s simply not true?

What if a bit of separation and time would make things clearer?

What if I let that piece of writing go one more week to see what develops, and look at it anew? Would I be letting my kids down?

Judging by how that strategy has done so far? Surprisingly, no.

Surprisingly, it feels good to relieve myself of that pressure.

It’s not an every-kid-every-week sort of situation, but it’s nice to know sometimes that a bit of patience pays off from time to time. And payoffs in this time of year? I’ll gladly take what I can get.

Interested in learning more about the March Slice of Life Challenge, or wanting to read more great posts? Head over to the Two Writing Teachers site!

Published by Lainie Levin

Mom of two, full-time teacher, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and holder of a very full plate

12 thoughts on “Story Challenge Day 14: On Letting Things Marinate

  1. I love this thought process. Providing feedback on writing is so important and so demanding and often so challenging especially in the two situations you referenced. So I love that you’ve found a solution that gives you a better way to deal with those challenges.

    1. Thank you! It’s also nice for me to remember that I don’t have to have all the answers right away. =)

  2. I love this perspective! It is a great idea to see what naturally develops on its own. See if a student identifies the direction of his or her writing independently and can take it to a place that is a little unexpected! I’m sure you will see a lot of awesome progression in your students!

    1. If my kids have taught me anything, it’s definitely that they have the potential to go unexpected places. The surprises they bring me each and every day make it worth getting out of bed in the morning!

      Thank you for the thoughtful feedback.

  3. This is so comforting for me. I really admire the tracking of writing and I want to do this. But there is always that student whose writing needs more time and that’s exactly what you gave. It reminds me of the idea in Penny Kittle’s article about “helicopter teaching”. We can have all the strategies mapped and sometimes the best strategy is allowing time without “pressure” for us and them.

    1. Helicopter teaching! Yes! And so many of my loveys have had that experience their whole lives, of grown-ups paving the way. You’re right. Less pressure or structured guidance can be good for BOTH of us. Thank you!

  4. I think you hit on a key point here. Somehow it has been ingrained in us that every student needs feedback on everything handed in and checked by us. This is not true. Sometimes we need extra time to see where the student is going with his/her work. Sometimes students need that extra time to clarify things for themselves as well.

    1. Right? I have had to fight the need to grade and evaluate every student artifact as well. I feel like it’s tied to our concept of self-worth as a teacher, this ability to offer timely and constructive feedback. But…is it really? Or can we allow ourselves and our students some room to breathe?

      (For what it’s worth, I think we’ve answered that question for ourselves. Still, I think it’ll always be a struggle for me.)

  5. What a huge teaching insight: “What if a bit of separation and time would make things clearer?” We often hold ourselves to unrealistic standards when it comes to practicing our craft. And that’s when our kids remind us that they are an active part of the equation. They are growing, developing, changing right before our very eyes and sometimes a little more space to do just that is precisely what’s called for. Also, I love that your kids get to practice choice in their writing. That’s a big motivator right there!

    1. Choice is a HUGE motivator! I feel like folks sometimes look at what I do in enrichment groups and shrug it off because I don’t have the same regimented curriculum to follow. But I have to believe that even the tightest syllabus can make some room for daylight, whether that’s choice of subject or, as you suggest, room to watch themselves grow, develop and change. Thanks for this thoughtful insight!

  6. I think you’re right about this, especially in the sense of feedback that’s instructional. Sometimes they may just need the kind of feedback we most frequently get in the SOL Challenge, feedback that’s essentially words of appreciation and encouragement. That’s a huge motivator for a lot of us, and sometimes motivation trumps instruction. Sorry that I had to use that T word. I couldn’t think of an alternative.

  7. Even as an adult sometimes someone writes something and I am at a total loss as to what they were trying to convey. The only thing I can do is step away and come back to it at a later time. Or just let it be. It took me a long time to learn that is an option as well.

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