About a year ago, I started an adventurous (for me) project. I love writing and have been able to write professionally in a variety of text forms over the last twenty years. One text form that I most appreciate as a reader is the fictional novel. So, I had some ideas about what I wanted to write and went for it; I started writing a novel of my very own. Three months and 100 000 words later, I thought I was close to being done. Life got busy and I had to take a break from writing for several months, but this summer I tried to get back to it.
And hit a brick wall. Hard.
After almost four decades of considering myself a capable writer, I discovered something completely unexpected.
Editing (and I mean editing, not just proofreading), is really hard and I’m not good at it. Also, I hate doing it, which is probably closely related to the fact that it is hard and I’m not good at it. Half the time I don’t know if I’m making progress or a mess. The undo button is my best friend.
As a result, I found a lot of other projects to occupy my time. Despite the fact that the previous summer I had found time to plan, research and then write 100 000 words of text, this summer even washing my windows pushed higher up the to-do list than editing did. After years of advocating and programming for, and even teaching courses on, reluctant writers I became one.
While not great news for my foray into novel writing, it has given me some new perspective on our students and writing and learning. Here’s what I have learned:
- It’s Complicated. Teaching the writing process (brainstorming, drafting, editing, proofreading, publishing) is important. While we don’t expect our students to take each step of the process with every writing piece, we do have to make sure they get comfortable with all of these complicated processes throughout their educational years and in a variety of text forms. Some students (or, ahem, adults) will avoid certain steps; spending excessive amounts of time on other steps or breezing through a step with a minimum of effort and effectiveness. We need to equip our students with strategies to support all of the steps.
- We Need to Know Before We Teach. Teachers need to experience the writing process in a variety of ways to provide students with the strategies they will need. I admit that I have taught writing for many years…and then I taught teachers how to teach writing…and I STILL am struggling with one critical step as a writer myself. How well did I provide my students with the skills they needed? Images of teenagers – my former primary students – now unable to edit haunt me. (That may be a little melodramatic).
- Work Avoidance. When I was avoiding editing, I did things like washing my windows. Students tend not to be that productive in their work avoidance techniques, instead turning to things like disrupting others, acting out or shutting down. We know that when some of those behaviours hit in our classrooms one reason we can suspect is work avoidance. Figuring out how to end their frustration with a task and help them get back on their way can cut down on the disruptive behaviour. Dr. Ross Green tells us that “children do well if they can”. We need to work to help them get to a place where they can do well.
- We need the check ins and instruction. Every tv show I’ve ever seen featuring a classroom scene shows one of two things: a teacher lecturing or students working independently. Since we aren’t into making “made for tv” classrooms, our learning spaces should feature a much higher proportion of small group guided instruction, small group and individual conferencing, student self reflection, and workable teacher feedback. These teaching strategies are so much more effective then lecturing or assigning. This summer, I think if I had been able to show some of my work with an experienced novel editor and talk through what I needed to do, set myself some goals, and learn some new strategies to get me over my road block, I would be a lot further ahead. Sure, my windows would be dirtier, but maybe I would now have a finished writing piece.
I haven’t given up on my writing. When I do finally get to the end of this process, I’m sure it will help me be a better educator. In the meantime, I’ll use what I have learned so far to support our students when they do struggle. Gaining this new perspective helps me see the struggles in a new light. I’ve heard that some of the best teachers were struggling students and I’m beginning to see why that could be.
As my teenagers are fond of saying, “the struggle is real”. It’s also not fun, but maybe some good can come from it. In the meantime, I am in the window cleaning business until I can find a new angle to approach my editing.
Stay tuned. I’ll let you know when I make a breakthrough.