Skating: When I was much younger my brother and I took rollerskating lessons. I know…who actually ever NEEDS rollerskating lessons? Well, unlike the rest of the inhabitants of the universe, we couldn’t skate. I believe it was an inner ear problem. Anyway, the first lesson ended. The rink opened, and the free skate began. What was wrong with me? After a 30-minute lesson, I still couldn’t skate, which added to the impatience of our instructor. My version of skating: skate the side while holding on to the railing along the wall. Take a deep breath before attempting the back wall, which had no railing. Repeat the other side, with a railing. After making it past the side and halfway across the endless back wall, I hear my instructor over the intercom, “Clear the floor for the limbo!” Within 15 seconds, the floor was empty, except, of course, for me. I was undecided. Should I finish making my way across the back wall to the side wall, to the helpful railing? Nope, that would take too long. “Clear the floor, please!” I started down the middle of the floor. I could hear comments from the other kids who were excited to play limbo. My face was red. I began to perspire. I fell down. I couldn’t get up. After what seemed like a lifetime, my instructor came to my rescue and pulled me off the floor. He waited too long. I think I’m scarred for life!
Result: I have never, nor will I EVER skate again. Ever. Never.
Fast forward to me in my forties. On a trip to Hawaii, I let my niece talk me into taking surfing lessons. Needless to say, I wasn’t sure I was up to it. However, my reputation as the fun aunt was on the line. Following payment and signing on the dotted line that I wouldn’t sue if we lost life or limb, the surfer dudes showed us what to do on dry land. After modeling the correct way to stand on the board, we had to show we understood by doing the same on the surfboard on the safety of the grass. Feeling like a cool surfer dudette myself, I carried my board to the water. The baby waves gave us some assurance, as did the fact that the dudes were in the water with us. Scaffolding our attempts, they told us when to turn around, when to start paddling, and when we could stand. After five attempts, I still hadn’t stood on the board. I paddled back out to the group of guys, who called me, “little mama”. Frankly, I would have followed them anywhere. One of them told me I shouldn’t be afraid to stand up. I could do it. He turned me around and said, “This time you’re going all the way! Start paddling!”I did as I was told. I had confidence. I could do it! And I did. What a thrill! All the surfer dudes clapped and cheered. I went back a half a dozen times for the thrill of surfing on my board.
Result: That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had! And I must say, I bought all the pictures of me surfing. I showed them to anyone who would look. I was proud and happy. And I would definitely go surfing again.
What’s my point? Which one of these models do we follow to teach our students to write? Do we give them a 30-minute lesson, then leave them to their own devices? Disappearing to our desks, while expecting perfection? When they struggle, do we leave them to become embarrassed or discouraged when it’s time to publish? Do we create people who hate writing?
Or do we give them a lesson, then have them show us they listened and understood? Do we continue to scaffold their learning and attempts to try using new strategies in their writing? Do we encourage them to do things they never thought they could do, fill them with confidence, then send them on to glory, cheering them along the way? Do we create people who love writing?