Annie Alcott's picture

Saying Yes: Let Students Own the Writing

One of the things I love about teaching is that you really don’t know what will happen on a given day. This past Monday when the children were deeply engaged in writing and I was conferencing with a child, one of my students, Eliza, approached me and waited patiently to ask a question. In her hand she held a clipboard with a paper divided by wavy, hand-drawn, vertical lines. Each column was headed by the name of a classroom activity: math, reading, finger knitting, writing, daily number, and a few I can’t remember. Eliza asked if she could interview other students in the class. I looked up and saw she was standing before me with a palpable eagerness. I usually don’t encourage children to walk around and distract other children as they do the hard work of putting their wealth of ideas on paper. I almost said no but in this instance, I could see it was important to Eliza. So I said yes.

Saying Yes

I have a teacher friend, Tali Reicher, who taught me to say yes. Or at least to try to say yes more often. As teachers, we are often in the position of saying no. Tali realized this one day, tired of hearing herself tell her fourth and fifth graders “no.” She began to make a concerted effort to say yes.

Feeding the Fire

Thinking of Tali, I went back to my conference. Within a few minutes several more girls came up to me and asked if they could do interviews too. Having said yes once, I said yes again but a bit warily as the noise level was beginning to rise higher than I like it during writing time. When another child, Nina, approached to ask me what my favorite pet was, I looked at the haphazard arrangement of peers’ names on her paper and quickly realized that maybe the kids needed some structure. By my desk stuck with a magnet to my file cabinet is a sheath of long, skinny papers. Each is a checklist of the names of the kids in my class. Complete with those very satisfying boxes. I use them for all kinds of checking in things—homework, field trip money, who gets double-digit addition and who doesn’t yet. But usually they are for my own organization, not for the kids’. But as I passed them out, I found they didn’t need any explanation. The kids quickly intuited the logic and the equanimity inherent in using the list. By the end of the writing period several children had joined in writing questions and making wavy vertical lines to delineate categories. Kids who don’t always engage with other kids easily jumped right in, asking questions with purpose and more confidence than I regularly see. The room was humming, full of happy, writing, moving bodies gathering information.

I am so glad I said yes.

Annie Alcott is a primary teacher. She has used DSC’s programs for several years. She has experience in second-language acquisition and teacher education and worked for five years at the University of California, Berkeley, in the Developmental Teacher Education Program as a supervisor and a lecturer.

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