Why I Like Free Writes

I'm on my prep period, reading student blog posts. It was a free write today and I anticipate the typical posts about zombies and basketball and occasionally zombie basketball. It's not that these things are shallow. They are deep, because they are relevant to a sixth grader.

But today, I am caught off guard. Despite having a challenging Monday, our class is a community and trust is begin to coalesce. This begins to show up in free writes, where students will write for an audience of their classmates and their teachers.

One girl writes a letter to her dad in prison. A few lines into it, I tear up. She lays it out in a list, all the things he is missing - specific details of the last two years. It isn't particularly emotional and yet that's part of what makes it so hard to read.

A boy writes about how he needs to pack up tonight, because they did an immigration raid at his dad's work and his dad was deported. He describes the pain of the moment he heard the news and the fear of adjusting, yet again, to a new culture and place and classmates.

Another boy writes about how different it feels to go to school once he understands the language. He writes eloquently about feeling like he belongs to two places and to two minds and to two languages. "When you belong in two places, you feel like you always belong and you never belong at the same time."

I relate the activity to a few writing standards, just in case someone asks why each student is writing about something different. But that's not it entirely. I want them to fall in love with writing. I want them to find their voice. And even more than that, I want to get to know them as people, so that when I have a difficult day (like Monday) I can remember that I never know the whole story.
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John Spencer

John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About. He is passionate about helping students develop into better writers and deeper thinkers.

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6 comments:

  1. John, you are a good person. I don't always have enough time to read all that you write (and how do you have time to write all that you write?), but this... I am so glad I read this.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Luke.

      And in terms of time, what I lack in quality I make up in quantity. I write often. On my best days, I can write some decent fiction as well (though not always).

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  2. John as a friend and colleague I do not respond often enough to your writing. Often like Luke I wonder how you have all this time to write, when I can barely get a post out a month. Somehow you capture the world as I see it, it is especially true when you write posts like this one. Your role as a teacher is to help students fall in love with learning in general. However I believe the most important part of your job is try to know the whole story which enables you to ultimately assist student learning. Loved this piece.

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    1. Thanks, Chad. It's been a hard year. I won't lie. But the free writes give me a glimpse into what's going on.

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  3. I couldn't agree more. Our kids have so much to say and at times it feels not enough opportunity to speak.

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    1. I wonder if that's why I often felt misunderstood in school.

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