Sunday, February 20, 2011

To the girl with all the secrets...

my secret writing hiding spot has grown...
I've been forcing my eighth graders to write about writing--specifically, they're writing their writing histories.  I'm asking them to start with their first memories of learning to write, and then tell me the story of everything they remember about writing for school or for themselves from then until now, and then to reflect on their views of themselves as writers and what they hope for their writing in the future.  The inspiration for this writing project comes from the book From the Other Side of the Desk, written by my education professor, Linda Miller Cleary, in which she interviews forty eleventh graders about their writing histories in an attempt to make sense of what goes right and wrong for students when learning to write.

My own reasons for doing the project are a little different--while I am very interested in the events and processes that have shaped the writing skills of my students, I'm also very interested in encouraging them to be self-reflective: to think deeply about their own past experiences with writing and to make a path into their futures.  I have found that, for many of them, their prevailing thought about writing has been simply, "Writing is hard, and I suck at it." 

So...each day in class, we've been spending some time writing in journals about our writing histories, and I include myself in that because for much of the time that my classes are writing, so am I.  Sure, I walk around and give encouragement and help, but I'm also scribbling in my notepad, and at the end when we share ideas, I sometimes tell them things that surfaced in my own writing that day. 

Surfaced.  It's funny how it happened--to all of us, I think.  We started out thinking, "Oh, I don't remember anything about learning to write, or about writing in elementary school, or about best and worst writing moments as a child..." and then we started writing a word or two or ten or two hundred...and memories started bouncing up from the bottom.  Memories of writing.

One of the memories that came up for me--something I shared with both of my classes--was about hiding my writing.  For the first time in years and years, I remembered how my bedroom in the old mobile home my family lived in from the time I was in third grade until I started seventh grade had a secret hiding place under the carpeting near the heating vent.  A little sliver of space where I could slide several sheets of paper, folded up into intricate shapes, where nobody would see the words I had written.  Nobody would judge them; nobody would jump to conclusions or make accusations as I processed my thoughts the way I do best.

I remember that when we moved, when a big truck came and hauled our home away at last, I slipped one last sheet of paper into that hiding place.  A letter, to the girl I imagined would live in my room after me.  A girl who, like me, might find herself in need of a secret hiding place, and when she discovered it she would find my words waiting to welcome her.

Maybe a year or so later, I was talking to my mom about the day they came for the trailer, and I told her about the letter I wrote.  She laughed and said we had sold the trailer for scrap, and I remember how embarrassed I was at the thought of some construction workers or something tearing up carpeting to find my earnest epistle to the imaginary girl with all the secrets.

1 comment:

Kristan said...

Aww, you shouldn't be embarrassed. That was such a sweet, cute thing to do.

Now you've got me trying to remember my writing history… I know I wrote a lot, always. And I remember a few things from third grade in particular. Does that count as a writing history? “Always”?