Yesterday was National Day of Writing. I don’t know who created it or where it came from, but I heard about it on Twitter and decided that it gave me a great opportunity to stop and have my students simply write. I gave my 6th grade class, a Humanities class, a 40 minute time for an unstructured writing time. I read a passage from the novel that we are reading, Wild Girls by Pat Murphy about writing something that is true. She writes, “A good writer is more than just a clever liar. A good writer tells the truth by telling lies.” We talked about taking something that is true and real for each of them and changing it, allowing it to grow, until it became “a lie,” something totally different and yet connected to, the original idea.
I told them to sit quietly to begin, to just let their thoughts and feelings rumble around inside of them, to start writing when they were ready. At first, it was clearly a scary task.
“What should I write about? I don’t know what to write!”
Then the next question, “Will we be graded on this?” to which the answer, the only possible answer for an assignment like this, was “No, this is a time to explore and have fun.”
“Will you be reading it?”
While I give assignments that I offer to not read if they want it to be private, I decided that I wanted to see what they wrote on this one, so that I could use it to launch more writing assignments. It is early enough in the year that I am still learning their strengths and challenges, and I knew I could learn a lot from this.
After the initial restlessness and worry died down, and the room became quiet, it was like watching a gentle wave of energy roll across the room. One by one, they picked up their pens and began to write. Their focus shifted from each other and their worry to the page in front of them. An invisible curtain began to surround each one, separating her from the student beside her. She went to her own space in her imagination and began to record what she found. It was no longer about the assignment or the classroom; it wasn’t about me or her peers. It was simply about what she had found when she was still and listened.
For 40 minutes, they wrote and wrote, barely taking time to look up. They wrote, and I watched them. I watched one puzzle over the next thought and then almost frantically rush to write the words on the page. Another student just kept slowly shaking her head back and forth as she wrote one word after another. Another needed to shift her body every few seconds, changing her position after each sentence. Yet another hunched down, closing her arms around her composition book. They showed so much of themselves as they went through the process of finding and recording their ideas.
Writing, taking the time to investigate and record your thoughts, is such an important process. There is obviously much more to it than this time that I gave my students, all of the honing and rewriting, editing and improving, but this first step is so important. Especially in a world where we are all rushing and easily distracted, it is critical to learn how to be still and listen to our own thoughts and to then take the time to record them.