These days, I often find myself in search of joy. Sameness is numbing, isolation is suffocating, and uncertainty is paralyzing. And yet, we go on. My students show up in the classroom (on a limited, hybrid schedule), ready and eager to learn.
I realize, sometimes over and over again, that my restricted time with my students pushes me to rush things in the classroom. Instead of giving time and space to breathe, to engage, to explore…I find myself watching the clock, urging students on, never letting them get fully immersed, locked into that indescribable flow that I can’t explain, but I always recognize.
Joy, instead of being a constant classroom companion, has become a shadow that I catch sight of at the edge of my visual field. It flickers, momentarily in focus before it dissolves into the corners–just out of reach. If I can’t reach out and grab onto the joy, how can my students?
Somewhere along the way during this pandemic school year I lost sight of daily writing. The whimsy and playfulness of messing around with words and ideas in the low-stakes sandbox of the writer’s notebook had vanished. Students mistakenly believed that writing should be one and done rather than the messy, living, complex process that it is. I had to make a change.
So, at the end of January, I reworked students’ independent work–the stuff they do during the half the school day when they are not in the classroom with me–to include time for daily writing. I set up a routine–predictable but with lots of novelty and variety. One day students are invited to write to a photo prompt–often silly and far-fetched. Another day they write under the influence of our weekly poem study: they can use it as a mentor text, they can be inspired by the topic, they can grab a word and follow it–the choice is the writer’s. And on the third day, I offer an active sort of prompt. Last week, on our weekly Wednesday Zoom call, students participated in a short scavenger hunt. They were sent in search of 5 items, one at a time. Once found, they showed the item on the screen and wrote it in their notebook. That list then became the fodder for the daily writing. They could come up with a story connecting the items, use one and go in any direction, again…choice is key.
While the daily writing is not amazing, students are finding a rhythm. They are developing fluency. And they are having some fun with it–joy is beginning to creep in. We are paying more attention to language, examining what we like when we read. Just last week, students picked one of these daily writing pieces. They picked not the best one; the one they love so much they don’t want to make any changes. Not the worst one; the one that feels flat and uninspiring. They picked one they were willing to work on, to improve, to make better. They used a Praise Question Wish protocol to respond to the writing in pairs. We studied a couple of mentor text excerpts from familiar pieces we had read in class. And armed with these tools, students went off to revise.
Most of these revised pieces are still not where I want them to be, but they are moving in the right direction. And better yet, they are moving toward discovering the joy of writing and language, expression and choice.
I am actively seeking joy in the classroom. Joy that fills me with wonder and energy. Joy that brings a smile to my students’ masked lips–that is visible in their eyes and felt in the air. Joy that takes me back to what I know is important in teaching and learning, despite pandemic restrictions and schedules that squeeze time into unrecognizable shapes. And I want writing to be a part of that joy, for me and for them.