Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Slice of Life--Chasing hares

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

My mother's gardens are incredible. Somewhere far back in our lineage, I think we may cross genetic paths with the McGregor family who wanted so desperately to put Peter Rabbit into a stew because she really hates the rabbits who live in the back yard. I've come to understand her dislike (and empathize with Mr. McGregor in ways I never had before) because they really are hungry little creatures. When her old and deaf spaniel Holly caught and killed a baby bunny yesterday, my mother was thrilled. Even though the little dog couldn't hear it, she received a whole lot of praise for her attack on the bunny world, and she spent most of the day poised at the door, ready to head back toward the nest. 

Throughout the week, I've been percolating a post centered on the proverb:

If you run after two hares you will catch neither.

Holly, who is deaf, stiff, and slow was able to capture a bunny. I guess some of her senses and strategies are still pretty intact. I have not been thinking about this proverb in terms of spaniels, though; I've been thinking about it in terms of writing. 

In a kindergarten class, I watched a child diligently copy words onto his paper. He is a child with disabilities, so there are usually adults hovering around, ready to help and guide him through tasks. Since he struggles with handwriting and letter formation, his para had written a sentence on a whiteboard. During independent writing time, H. was working on copying the letters, while the rest of the class was writing opinion pieces about problems they'd identified and wanted fixed in their schools. 

I asked H. what he was working on. "My writing," he said.  I asked H. to read his work to me. His writing was a little messy but legible. He couldn't. I asked him to read the neater sentence on the whiteboard. He couldn't. 

I talked to his para about ways she could teach him that could involve more drawing and less writing--how the instruction and task could be closer to his independent level, and the para was wonderful about changing things up a bit so that the task could still involve letter formation, but wasn't the equivalent of copying hieroglyphics. I left the class thinking about tasks and how we balance teaching all of the skills students need in order to write. I emphasize approximation and not mastery when I talk to teachers about writing instruction, and sometimes I think we all feel like we are chasing a whole lot more than just two hares. 

The world is full of analogies, and maybe it's just that this one doesn't work for writing instruction. It's messy and involves chasing a whole lot of hares. Sometimes kids have to work on letter formation or keyboarding or spelling or capitals. Oh yes, and also thinking of ideas and sentence variation and different strategies for elaboration and... the list goes on, and I'm not sure we should ever ask students to stop paying attention to other aspects of writing and focus only on one. In fact, I'm sure we shouldn't. 

For now I'll leave the focus on one hare at a time to Holly, only preferably when I'm not around. 


  1. Ah, the delicate balance of man and nature. I love hearing how you guide teachers with such a gentle hand. There are so many things to consider in early literacy, and you have to tune into them all, a delicate balance.

  2. It is said the writing is the most complex orchestra a child's mind has to conduct. Your post, Melanie is testimony to this belief. We must continue to assist/support the writer to gradually gain control over these competing demands, but time and space must always be afforded to them. We must also accept their approximations as signposts of growth. Writing is a messy beast and in time, with practice and support from those around us, we develop increased confidence and competence. As Colleen Cruz wrote on Twitter last year-'Relax people, its kid's writing, it will never be perfect.'

  3. My analogy is that they have so many balls in the air - they are bound to drop a few here and there. It is complicated, but with daily authentic writing I think it all comes together. Love the opening of this slice!