National Day on Writing is THIS WEEK!

The National Day on Writing is this week. Strangely, it’s on October 20th (a Saturday–huh?What’s up with that?), but here at my institution, The New Community College, we are celebrating it all. week. long.

I have been too busy to write here because I have been so entrenched in figuring out just who is in my classroom. This is my first full semester of teaching community college, and the hardest transition for me from teaching high school is the infrequency with which I see the students. Especially in September because here in New York we get all the Jewish holidays off and this made our class schedule do all sorts of wonky things. Besides the holidays, the nature of college is you go days between classes, and this is unsettling for me, especially in these early weeks when I am trying not only to gauge their skill levels, but also who they are as people and how I can best meet both their cognitive and non-cognitive needs.

At around week 3 of classes, I found myself looking out into the 20+ faces in my classroom and feeling like they were strangers and wondering, “Who ARE you people?!”

So, what does any good English teacher do when s/he is faced with an obstacle such as this? You make the students write.

In lieu of an academic (text based) reader response essay (the assignment I have them do almost weekly which I will blog about later this week), I had them do a personal response essay. The prompt was something along the lines of: Who are you as a person? A reader? A writer?

The suggested format was:

Intro Paragraph: Create a complex thesis statement(a skill they are greatly lacking, which I’ll also talk about later this week) about what kind of person you are.

Body Paragraph 1: Back up your thesis with one paragraph of narrative life experience(s) that illustrate(s) who you are. Tell me something beautiful, painful, real about yourself. Tell me only as much as you are comfortable telling me. Be descriptive. Wow me.

Body Paragraph 2: Explain what kind of reader you are and how that is tied to what kind of person you are. What do you like to read? Hate to read? Where have you felt success in reading? Failure? How can I help you become a better reader?

Body Paragraph 3: Explain what kind of writer you are and how this is tied to your thesis statement. What do you like to write? Hate to write? Where have you felt success in writing? Failure? How can I help you become a better writer?


[Note: I always guide their paragraphs to help with organization at the beginning of the year, and then I try to wean them off my guidance as the year progresses.]

And what I got from them was amazing. Beautiful. Painful. It took me so long to grade them because I had so much to say back to them about their lives, their reading, their writing. . .It was a great assignment to give them. And now I feel like I know them a million times better than I did before. I handed the essays back and the students read–really read–my feedback. I could feel them feeling me. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true. And that’s when our connection began.

Next time: I’d write one for them, too. They wanted my responses–isn’t that awesome? Next year I’ll write one to give them when I hand theirs back. Maybe I’ll ask for their feedback. Ohhh…that would be great.

This all connects to the National Day on Writing because we are celebrating it in throughout the week at our college. We are:

1. Having writing lessons across the curriculum in every class.

2. Playing a powerpoint presentation of collected responses to “Why I Write” from faculty, staff, and students (responses from students were culled from the essays above!)

3. Hosting a creative writing workshop with our lead peer mentor, Carlos Iro Burgos, who has self-published his own poetry

4. Inviting the students to tweet their “Why I Write” responses in our school’s Information Commons (that’s the new technologically savvy word for library) on Thursday. When they tweet (under a school Twitter account created for the event), they will receive a bracelet to commemorate that they participated in the National Day on Writing.

Try to do something in your classes, too. For my writing lesson, I am doing this cool poetry writing game that I learned from a fellow teacher at the Satellite Institute of the New York City Writing Project last spring. I can’t wait.

Write on, my friends!