Becoming a capital-W Writer

“We don’t learn by doing, but instead by reflecting on what we’ve done.”

The most impactful moment of my life as both a writer and educator (as mentioned previously here) happened my freshman year of high school, and I think about it often as the moment I started thinking of myself as a writer.

This shift occurred primarily because of the (admittedly heroic) efforts of my 9th grade English teacher, Tricia Scow. I was fourteen and trying to be cool, so I told anyone who would listen that I hated reading and writing, and I was absolutely dreading my English class next period. I, of course, harbored a secret love of it all. Early in the semester we started what Mrs. Scow called M&Ms (and I cannot, for the life of me, remember why), which essentially was a daily journal we kept by writing — nonstop — for ten minutes at the beginning of each class. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was meant to become a record of our growth as readers and writers.

I fought this process tooth and nail. I wanted no part of writing everyday, and my early entries are filled with angsty scribblings about how much I didn’t want to do what I was doing. Eventually, however, and with the aforementioned heroic efforts of one very amazing teacher, I began to write seriously — and about everything. What I was reading, what I was going through, experimenting with short stories and poetry — even the beginnings of a novel I will surely never finish.

And I began to think of myself as a writer.

How could I not? When you spend ten minutes everyday for 8 months doing something, it inevitably takes the fear and hesitation out of it; this is a wonderful gift Mrs. Scow gave me.

At the end of the year, close to one of the last days of school, we pulled out our journals to write, and Mrs. Scow stopped us. Instead of writing, she said, we were supposed to take the ten minutes to look through the journal, cover to cover, and reflect on what we’ve written.

And it was like someone turned a light on in my head.

I was a writer. A real one. Someone who had a journal that showed things like “personal growth” and “potential.” It wasn’t until I was asked to reflect on my “journey as a writer” that I realized I actually was a writer, and that I had become a better writer and could continue becoming better and better. I remember the moment so clearly, and looking back realize just how much I owe to Tricia Scow.

And this reflection, I think, is the key to being a better writer (or reader, or student, or friend, or anything, really) and the key to coaching students to become better writers as well; if you’re not acknowledging your growth and achievement specifically, it can also be easy to miss the ways you could grow and achieve even more. It also forces acknowledgement; I never would’ve called myself or even thought of myself seriously as a writer if I hadn’t been asked to reflect on my journey as such.

And this, I believe, is another key element of fostering a love (or tolerance, at least) of writing in students; call them writers. Every chance you get. It instills the kind of confidence one needs to write seriously, and to reflect, and make mistakes and throw away whole projects and start over and revise and revise and revise. That process is messy and strenuous and sometimes stressful and sad and sometimes revealing and monumental; the badge “Writer” often feels like a cape, or a shield, or a weapon — you can handle that, Writers handle that all the time — and you, afterall, are a writer.

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Exploring the Blogosphere

The blogosphere: an interesting phenomena of the 21st century that allows us to access and share our interests in an entirely new way. In order to fully understand this brave new world, so to speak, I dived in to find a few interesting blogs to span across a wide range of interests, and the following is what I emerged with.

1. A Beautiful Revolution

A Beautiful Revolution is the creation of Andre Jordan; an unconventional twist on blogging that’s part art gallery, part therapy session, and part social revolution, this doodle-filled look into Jordan’s mind offers a visual intellectual journey one doesn’t often encounter. The intended audience seems to be those who, like Jordan, struggle with depression, or people who wish to understand the disease from a personal rather than medical standpoint. Though there’s very little writing on the blog itself, the pictures and “doodles,” as he calls them, tell a story all their own, and create fresh perspective, as well as entertainment, for anyone is the blogosphere.

2. The Thinking Stick (The 4Cs of Learning)

This blog, run by Jeff Utecht, focuses on technology in education, and discusses at length that the only way to educate modern students is to become modern teachers. In the article linked here, he lists the 4Cs of Learning; Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, and Critical Thinking. He tailors these 4Cs, however, to the modern learner, and how the modern teacher can teach them this way. Teachers must teach communication the way the world communicates, i.e. social media, blog posts, emails and texts, etc. They also muct collaborate across space and time, meaning that in the modern age, communication is nearly limitless, and educators must teach students how this changes the way they communicate with the world. Similarly, the student must be creative to a global audience, because we live in a smaller world than ever, and access to other people’s creations has never been easier; how do we teach students to create with the entire world in mind? And finally, thinking of Creative Thinking as creating problem finders rather than just problem solvers; specifically, this means making students ambitious and courageous enough to find the problems that need to be solved themselves, rather than waiting to be presented with one. Overall a little dry, but interesting topics/ideas being discussed.

3. Sidetracked

marine-lakes-ethan-daniels-05
A golden jellyfish, Mastigias papua, swims in a marine lake in Palau. This jellyfish has a symbiosis with zooxanthellae, a photosynthetic dinoflagellate.

This is definitely the most interesting blog I’ve ever come across. Other than being well-designed and user friendly, it acts as every adventurer’s virtual dream land; you can chose to explore places by continent. landscape, or preferred transportation, and each link you click leads you to a new destination, with incredible images and exciting stories to match. It’s aptly named, as well; I spent easily an hour on the sight before I remembered I was in the middle of this post. Highly reccomend this blog for travelers, adventures, and explorers alike.

Some Study that I Used to Know:response

As a future educator, what I want my students to take out of my classroom isn’t only the content; in fact, I would say content comes second. I want my students to learn their own value and the value of their work; I want them to know that what they create and what they think matters; I want them to act on the world, not just exist in it; and I want them to fall in love with learning. We all had teachers that did these things for us, and exceptionally so, otherwise we wouldn’t be here; we all aspire to be the teachers that inspired us to teach in the first place.

So, overall, it’s not super important to me if my students ‘liked’ the Scarlet Letter or remember the correct use of who vs. whom 20 years after they graduate (though I know content is obviously a focus). What matters to me is that my students know their worth, feel valued and respected in the classroom, have or gain the confidence to share their ideas, and know that the only way they will ever be able to effectively advocate for themselves is through education; and, of course, find some value in reading and writing both in and outside my English class.

If I can accomplish these things, I will consider myself a successful teacher for my students (even if Hamlet becomes a study that they used to know).

Touchstone Moments

Giant Ladybugs and Lady Journalists

I’m not sure how old I was for this one, maybe second or third grade, but I remember my third grade teacher used to set aside time for us to explore our interests by setting up stations around the classroom and allowing us to rotate through them. My personal favorite was the writing center; our teacher took the time to create little books, with covers and room for pictures, and we would create our own short stories. I distinctly remember one story I spent days on, about a giant ladybug that terrorized the town and a journalist-turned-super hero that saved the day.When we were finished, she would collect the stories and laminate them and then put them in the “student library,” and told us we were all officially published authors, and how could we not believe her — we had our books in a library, after all. This was the first time I remember feeling like the things that I created had value, and that the things I wrote down could mean something to other people

M&Ms

This moment (or rather, series of moments) I remember very clearly; my freshman year of highschool, my English teacher (aka the teacher that inspired me to become a teacher myself) had us keep daily journals called M&Ms in which we would write for ten minutes at the beginning of class — the only rule is that we couldn’t lift our pens from the page. I wrote about everything, from home and family life to my thoughts about what we were reading in class. This is the first time I saw clear growth in my writing, and consequently learned that the writer I am is not the writer I have to be or will be even a few months into the future. Seeing this growth all in one journal made it easy to see myself growing even more, and eventually becoming the writer I wanted to be.

Spoken Word

My junior year of high school, I attended a conference with the nonprofit Invisible Children called Fourth Estate, and it ended up quite literally changing my life. One of the most important things I realized during this conference is that I loved to write creatively; after returning from Fourth Estate, I had so much emotion to process, so I wrote a poem about it. The rest kind of fell into place — I’ve been writing spoken word poetry ever since. I performed in public for the first time in October of 2014, and have been performing ever since. This was when I really began writing creatively, and developing my voice as a writer outside of academia, which in turn helped me create a more well rounded voice for my academic papers.