I have always been a writer, since the time I could grasp a crayon or pencil. I wrote short stories as a child, fell in love with Haiku in 3rd grade during an extended study of Japan, and wrote the requisite love poetry in my teen years.
In college, I majored in English, minored in Education, and received two teaching credentials. I have taught every grade from K through 12, in traditional schools, alternative schools, continuation high school, and even in the lock-down ward in juvenile hall in the late 1970s. I have also taught creative writing, adult literacy programs, parenting workshops, and English As A Second Language (ESL) classes in schools, churches, and community centers. Always, my primary goal was to teach my students to read and write, to help them find their inner voices and express themselves succinctly in the world.
As an adult, I have written and sold magazine articles, essays, fiction, poetry, and women’s erotica. I have written and published more than 100 reproducible books for beginning readers — used in classrooms around the world since the late 1990’s — as well as dozens of integrated thematic curriculum units, learning games, and classroom management guides for early childhood classrooms (U.S. grades Pre-K through 3). My teacher resource books are available for purchase on my teaching website, KinderKorner.com.
I have also had the privilege of training teachers throughout the U.S. and Canada: working as a consultant for school districts; presenting staff development workshops; keynoting and speaking at state, local, and regional education conferences; and hosting my own one- and two-day KinderKorner Balanced Literacy Workshops, where I taught teachers how to create self-managing multi-level classrooms that addressed and met the needs of each individual child, with an emphasis on creating joyful, competent, and fluent readers and writers.
Reading and writing are reciprocal processes, and I believe they should be taught in a meaningful context, rather than as separate isolated subjects whose lessons are based on rote memorization and fill-in-the-blank workbook sheets. Authentic, purposeful, self-directed writing was a required daily component of my Language Arts & Literacy program at all grade levels, beginning in Pre-K. My students chose their own writing topics, and they wrote everything from grocery lists to party invitations, restaurant menus, instruction manuals, short stories and poetry, thematic dictionaries and word banks, explanations of math processes and concepts, non-fiction reports, and much more.
[update, 07/23/14 … I’m sitting in a hotel room in San Jose, where I am attending the Blogher conference for the next 3 days. With a little time on my hands, I pulled up my KinderKorner website — KinderKorner.com to find a few pictures of my kindergarten class writing during the 2000-2001 school year. As you can see, they’re having a great time. I, however, am sitting here in mild shock, looking at photos of myself from 14 years ago … yowzer! I truly had forgotten how cute I was back then, and how young and thin … and, again, I say yowzer!]
Like “real” published authors, each student found his or her personal voice, and wrote about things that were of personal interest and importance. They understood that writing was a process, not a get-it-done-and-over-with assignment. Writing was a creative and enjoyable activity, beginning with planning, then progressing through writing a first draft, sharing and peer-editing, conferencing with the teacher (me), then re-writing and fine-tuning, with the goal of publishing one polished piece per week in the form of an illustrated book. After “publication,” each student read their finished work to the entire class, and then their book was added to the classroom library, where it would be read and enjoyed by their friends, families, and classroom visitors for the remainder of the year.
My job was to model the writing process in brief mini-lessons that were seamlessly woven into classroom instruction, activities, and discussions, providing dozens to hundreds of examples of purposeful writing each week, continually building skills and providing guidance. I was a coach, facilitator, and editor, but I was also — as shown to my students each and every day — a writer who went through the same process and steps the students did, moving toward a completed piece of writing or a final draft worthy of publication.
Which brings me back to training other teachers to do the same. I cannot overstate how important it is that teachers write when their students are writing: not the entire time, but certainly for the first three to five minutes. If we want our students to be writers, we must be writers in their eyes.
Teachers are used to being in charge, to giving orders, to calling the shots, making the rules, and exercising control over groups of students. Every teacher who has ever sat or stood in front of a room filled with students, did so with the implied title of Expert. Teachers, more than any other demographic group I’ve worked with, absolutely hate being told they must sit down — right now — and write, whether for two minutes or twenty.
Experienced, well-trained, highly educated teachers — adults who often have multiple college degrees — begin to shut down when asked to participate in a writing exercise designed for 5 year olds. They cross their arms instead of their t’s, and they roll their eyes instead of dotting them. They groan, they whine, they say they don’t see the point of actually doing the work themselves. They avoid making eye contact with me, and with one another, suddenly obsessed with looking through book-bags and purses for some non-existent object. Invariably, a few get up and leave the room, heading for the bathroom in the hope of avoiding putting pen to paper and sharing their words with others.
It is blatantly clear that the majority of teachers consider writing an unpleasant chore, as opposed to the joyful experience it can be when taught correctly. Our youngest writers must have role models and instructors who show their students — daily, and in multiple ways — that writing is a pleasurable and integral part of daily life, regardless of one’s age. And it is equally important that our students’ families do the same. Writing a grocery list together is far more valuable than forcing a child to fill in the blanks on a worksheet. For now, that’s all I’m going to say about teachers who force their students to do what they refuse to do themselves.